Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review: From Poor Law to Welfare State (1999)

From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America (1999), by Walter Trattner, covers nearly 300 years of social welfare history with 17 chapters from the colonial period to the Clinton presidency. This is a review of the sixth edition, focusing on the sweeping welfare reform changes in 1996 (PROWA, also known as Personal Responsibility and Opportunity to Work Act) that would further encourage privatization ("work and starve mentality") and create economic disparities between the rich and the poor. The book's strengths is the changes in social welfare between the Civil War (1860s) and Great Society (1960s) periods. Sample chapters include the history of the public health movement, mental health movement, and divisions between charity and settlement house movements in the field of social work.

Trattner highlights the expansion and retrenchment of institutional social welfare policies in the United States. In the past three decades, social welfare has gone through a downward transition, which has alarmed social reformers and progressive leaders. The last two chapters ends on a rather gloomy note for the future: conservative social policy measures prevailed in the federal government by 2000. The Obama administration is attempting to change that by pushing an agenda that would help the working poor. However he faces major opposition from the right and big business. Although the book is geared for urban history and social work classes, faculty and students in mental health, public health, and public policy would also find this a very useful reference.

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