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The Problem Of Poverty: Welfare In America

2100 words - 8 pages

The Problem of Poverty: Welfare in America

For centuries, nations, cities, and individual families have dealt with the problem of poverty; how to remedy current situations and how to prevent future ones. For most of history, there have been no government controlled poverty assistance programs. The poor simply relied on the goodness of their families or, if they did not have a family, on the generosity of the public at large. In the United States, this situation changed in 1935 with the passage of the Social Security Act. The Social Security Act has seen many successes, but it also faces many critiques of its structure and function. In the past, most governments did little to actively aid their poor population. This duty was understood to fall on the families of the poor individuals, charity groups, and generous individuals. Some governments aided their needy in indirect ways. One of the first government-mediated assistance programs was passed by the English Parliament in 1601 as the Act for the Relief of the Poor. This act set up local 'parishes' that were responsible for taking care of the poor in their own district. However, the government provided no funds to facilitate this program?the parishes were responsible for levying and collecting taxes to finance their programs. Though it would be considered a very primitive form of welfare by today?s standards, it was a large step toward government-mediated welfare compared to the English system 250 years before that. In 1349, Parliament forbade charity on the grounds that it might encourage laziness. Since then, public attitudes have changed about the responsibility of the citizens and the government to provide for the assistance of the needy. Limited federal assistance was given to war veterans and their families beginning during the Civil War, but large scale assistance to the general needy community was not available for almost 75 more years (Komisar 48). A large contribution toward the assistance of the poor in the United States came during the Progressive movement around the turn of the century. Activist groups championed not only workers rights in the form of unions, but also the right of every citizen to have access to decent living conditions (Komisar 67).

The Progressive movement slackened during the prosperous ?20s, but the social welfare issue was forcefully placed back into the public consciousness with the advent of the Great Depression in 1929. With an unemployment rate as high as 25% and millions without sanitary living conditions, ignorance of the problem of poverty would have been disastrous. In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act which, among other things, provided for the financial, medical, and material needs of the poor (Komisar 125,128). Since then, there have many additions and reforms to the bill, none of which has served to quell the controversy surrounding the effectiveness of the welfare system in the United States. The main concerns...

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