Chapter Study Outline

The Welfare State

  1. Prior to 1935, the welfare system in America was composed of private groups rather than government. State governments gradually assumed some of the obligation to relieve the poor.
  2. The founding of the welfare state can be dated to the Social Security Act of 1935; this act provided for both contributory and noncontributory welfare programs.
  3. Contributory programs—such as Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment compensation—provide “forced savings” for individuals who, as a consequence of making a contribution, can receive program benefits at a later time.
  4. Noncontributory programs—such as food stamps, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)—provide assistance to people based on demonstrated need rather than on any contribution they may have made.
  5. Goldberg v. Kelly created the concept of an entitlement by holding that the financial benefits of AFDC could not be revoked without due process. Spending on social policies, especially Social Security and Medicare, has increased dramatically in recent decades, raising concerns about how entitlement programs will be paid for in future decades.
  6. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) created major changes in welfare benefits and gave states more discretion in how benefits would be allocated.
  7. Although much of the public debate has focused on the costs of Social Security, most experts agree that Medicare and Medicaid pose the biggest budget challenge due to the rapidly rising costs of health care. Reforms have been proposed, but in the charged political context, nothing has been enacted.

Opening Opportunity

  1. Education, health, and housing policies are three ways to break the cycle of poverty and redistribute opportunities.
  2. The education policies of state and local governments are the most important single force in the distribution and redistribution of opportunity in America. No Child Left Behind greatly increased the federal role in education.
  3. Although states also took the early lead in the arena of public-health policy, the federal government began to adopt policies during the early 1900s to protect citizens from the effects of pollution and other health hazards.
  4. The Democrats passed comprehensive health care reform in 2010 in the form of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but the issue of health care reform remained at the forefront of public debate and election campaigns.
  5. Federal housing policy has focused on promoting home ownership. The federal government has traditionally done much less to provide housing for low-income Americans who cannot afford to buy homes.

Who Gets What from Social Policy?

  1. The two categories of social policy—contributory and noncontributory—generally serve different groups of people. The elderly and the middle class receive the most benefits from the government’s social policies, and children and the working poor receive the fewest.
  2. The elderly are the beneficiaries of generous social policies in part because they are perceived as being a deserving population and because they have become a strong interest group.
  3. The middle class benefits from social policies in many ways; one way is through the use of tax expenditures, which provide that certain payments made by employers and employees are not taxed by the government.
  4. People who are working but are still poor receive limited assistance from government social programs. Although they may be seen as deserving, they receive only limited assistance because they lack organization and political power.
  5. Medicaid and TANF are programs aimed at the able-bodied, nonworking poor, but they receive assistance only if they are parents caring for children. The unpopularity of such programs has prompted efforts to decrease spending in recent years.
  6. Minorities, women, and children are disproportionately poor. Much of this poverty is the result of disadvantages that stem from the position of these groups in the labor market.

Thinking Critically about Social Policy and Equality

  1. The development of social policy in the United States reflects the tensions among the values of liberty, equality, and democracy.
  2. Liberals often argue that more generous social policies are needed if America is to truly ensure equality of opportunity. Conservatives often argue that social policies can take the ideal of equality too far and, in the process, do for individuals what those individuals should be doing for themselves.
  3. Americans tend to distrust activist government, but evaluate particular programs favorably. Programs that are effective and aid groups believed to be “deserving” receive the most support.