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For half a decade, our best minds puzzled over the statistics, held innumerable conferences to discuss them, and got nowhere. The only serious effort at explanation was made by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in his famous and brilliant memorandum on the Negro family, in He called attention to the fact that most of the new welfare recipients were in the Aid to Dependent Children category, that a growing proportion of families in this category were black and fatherless, and that the disorganization of the Negro family seemed to have gathered a sociological momentum of its own -- a momentum impervious to the effects of improving economic circumstances.

Why this was happening to the Negro family, however, Mr. Moynihan could not convincingly explain. This permitted a great many liberal-minded scholars to spend all of their energies attacking him rather than the problem. But, eventually, any social phenomenon yields up its mystery.

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Or, to put it another way: eventually, all social observers, no matter how blurred their vision may be by tacit ideological presuppositions, come to see the obvious. We now know what caused the "welfare explosion. All the facts are lucidly and authoritatively presented by Professors Piven and Cloward. Unfortunately they have felt compelled to wrap their findings in a thin, transparently false general theory of welfare in a capitalist society.

This general theory is so simpleminded, so crude in a quasi-Marxist way, that one is embarrassed to summarize it. I will therefore let the authors state it for themselves:. Relief arrangements [under capitalism] are not shaped by the impulse to charity. Relief arrangements are usually initiated or expanded in response to the political disorders that sometimes follow from the sharp economic downturns or dislocations that periodically beset market systems.

The purpose of relief-giving at such times is not to ease hunger and want but to deal with civil disorder among the unemployed.

Once stability is restored, however, the relief system is not ordinarily eliminated. Instead, it is reorganized to buttress the normal incentives of the labor market. This is done in two ways. The main way is by cutting the "able-bodied" off the rolls whether or not there are jobs, and whether or not the wages offered are sufficient for survival. Second, some of those who cannot work or who are not needed in the labor market are allowed to continue on the relief rolls, but they are treated so barbarously as to make of them a class of pariahs whose degradation breeds a fear and loathing of pauperism among the laboring classes.

Now, the objections to this theory on historical, sociological, and economic grounds -- are too numerous to mention. But one objection ought to be definitive: it does not explain what Piven-Cloward elsewhere in the book explain so well -- that is, the "welfare explosion" of the s. True, the "welfare explosion" coincided with rioting in the black slums. But according to the general theory, the poor in the black slums should not have been rioting at all, since the economy was booming and black unemployment was at an all-time low: and if they did riot, it should have been because they were being pushed off welfare into low-paying jobs.

In fact, they were rioting while they were going on welfare in ever increasing numbers -- and while welfare payments were being increased, not while they were being cut back. The true explanation of the "welfare explosion" is available to any reader of Regulating the Poor who will ignore the authors' general theory.

This is easily done: once they have stated the theory, they happily forget all about it when discussing the s. This "explosion" was created -- in part intentionally, in larger part unwittingly -- by public officials and public employees who were executing public policies as part of a "War on Poverty.

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Here, as related in Piven-Cloward's book, are the reasons behind the "welfare explosion" of the s: 1. The number of poor people who are eligible for welfare will increase as one elevates the official definitions of "poverty" and "need. The number of eligible poor who actually apply for welfare will increase as welfare benefits go up -- as they did throughout the s. When welfare payments and associated benefits, such as Medicaid and food stamps compete with low wages, many poor people will rationally prefer welfare.

In New York City today, as in many other large cities, welfare benefits not only compete with low wages; they outstrip them. The reluctance of people actually eligible for welfare to apply for it -- a reluctance based on pride or ignorance or fear -- will diminish if an organized campaign is instituted to "sign them up.

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  7. In addition, the courts cooperated by striking down various legal obstacles for example, residence requirements. In summary, one can say that the "welfare explosion'' was the work, not of "capitalism" or of any other "ism," but of men and women like Miss Piven and Mr. Cloward -- in the Welfare Rights Movement, the social work profession, the office of Economic Opportunity, and so on.

    It would be nice to think that the "general theory" in Regulating the Poor was devised mainly out of an excess of modesty. Connection It should be emphasized that Piven-Cloward think the "welfare explosion" is a good thing. They believe more people should be on welfare and that these people should get far more generous benefits than now prevail. One would expect, therefore, that this book would have a triumphant tone to it. Yet it does not. Indeed, it ends rather abruptly, in a minor key. The reason, one suspects, is that even Piven-Cloward must be less than certain about what they have accomplished.

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    Somehow, the fact that more poor people are on welfare, receiving more generous payments, does not seem to have made this country a nicer place to live -- not even for the poor on welfare, whose condition seems not noticeably better than when they were poor and off welfare. Something appears to have gone wrong: a liberal and compassionate social policy has bred all sorts of unanticipated and perverse consequences. One such perverse consequence, and surely the most important, is the disorganization and demoralization of the Negro family. It used to be thought that a generous welfare program, liberally administered, would help poor families stick together.

    The Welfare Explosion of the s 7. Agricultural Modernization and Mass Unemployment 8. Migration and the Rise of Disorder in the Cities 9. Poor Relief and the Dramaturgy of Work See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books.

    Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare

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    Overview Piven and Cloward have updated their classic work on the history and function of welfare to cover the American welfare state's massive erosion during the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton years. Poor Relief and Theories of the Welfare State.

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