The cultural and political currents that shaped American society during the early decades of the twentieth century had a decided effect on the configuration of the American welfare system as it appeared in the 1930s. Social workers, politicians, and reformers carried those currents into the maelstrom of the Great Depression to influence New Deal policy. New York city took the lead in many of the movements that influenced the way Franklin Roosevelt’s administration addressed problems arising out of economic crises during the Great Depression—the city’s innovative approach to unemployment became a prototype for work-relief programs; the charities controversy conditioned much of the later policy surrounding public subsidies and child care; the city’s widows’ pension program laid the foundation for ADC. There were, of course, many social and political leaders from New York who brought their ideas and attitudes to Washington in 1933, including Frances Perkins, Homer Folks, and Jane Hoey. Harry Hopkins was unique among them because he seemed to combine all of the experiences that contributed to America’s emergent welfare system. His proposed job assurance program was neither ameliorative nor preventive. Rather, it was meant to place economic agency in the hand of the worker because Roosevelt’s federal relief administrator believed that relief did not improve status of the worker; only the security of an assured wage could do this.
KeywordsWelfare System Great Depression Unemployment Insurance Pension Program Relief System
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- 5.“Press Conference, August 8, 1935,” 6, and “Press Conference October 31, 1935,” 5, Box 29: Press Conferences 11/2/34-12/19/35, HHP, FDRL. Federal funding, however, failed to lift from ADC the ancient stigma of public outdoor relief, what we now call “welfare,” and recipients, once considered outside of the workforce and now castigated for failing to work, are regarded with suspicion. As Joel Handler correctly observed, American welfare policy “still lies within the shadow of the sturdy beggar.” Joel F. Handler, The Poverty of Welfare Reform (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), 5.Google Scholar
- 14.New York City public planner Robert Moses called Hopkins “as friendly and generous as an Indian rajah on a toot in Paris.” Quoted in Searle F. Charles, “Harry L. Hopkins: New Deal Administrator, 1933–1938,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Illinois, 1953.Google Scholar