Shifting the Color Line: Race and the American Welfare State by Robert C. Lieberman

By Robert C. Lieberman

Regardless of the significant monetary and political strides that African-Americans have made during this century, welfare continues to be a subject matter that sharply divides americans by means of race. transferring the colour Line explores the historic and political roots of tolerating racial clash in American welfare coverage, starting with the hot Deal. via Social safeguard and different social coverage courses, white staff have been effectively built-in right into a robust nationwide welfare country. even as, African-Americans--then as now disproportionately poor--were relegated to the margins of the welfare kingdom, via decentralized, usually racist, public assistance courses. Over the subsequent new release, those institutional alterations had fateful results for African-Americans and their integration into American politics. because of its powerful nationwide constitution, Social defense speedy turned the nearest factor we need to a common, color-blind social application. however, public assistance--especially relief to households with established young children (AFDC)--continued to regard African-Americans badly, whereas final politically susceptible and institutionally decentralized. Racial differences have been hence outfitted into the very constitution of the yankee welfare country. by means of holding terrible blacks at arm's size whereas embracing white staff, nationwide welfare coverage helped to build the modern political divisions--middle-class as opposed to terrible, suburb as opposed to urban, and white as opposed to black--that outline the city underclass.

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24 They promised help to those who, for reasons beyond their control, were unable to support themselves. And within the limits imposed by political circumstances, they proposed generally racially inclusive, nationally structured policy institutions. It was the last of these characteristics that attacked the racial and class divide in American society by proposing to move toward a broad-based scheme of social rights. Accordingly, it provoked the most serious opposition. Congress responded to this challenge by subtly but significantly defining more sharply the class divisions among the components of social security—social insurance for the industrial and commercial working class and public assistance for the poor.

They accepted the new federal role and even pleaded for the expansion of federal funding levels for public assistance programs, for the South, more than the other regions of the country, desperately needed federal largesse to prevent widespread misery. But the near-unanimity of the congressional adoption of the Social Security Act masks considerable tension within Congress. In particular, Southern domination of Congress shaped the deliberations of 1935. 51 Because of the strict seniority system by which members of Congress were promoted to positions of power, most notably committee chairs, Southern Democrats, because of their longevity in office, tended to rise disproportionately to these positions.

67 But the CES’s decision that all workers should be covered came under immediate and persistent question in the hearings, and the Ways and Means and Finance Committees’ decisions to eliminate them from coverage came under attack as well. In the end, an important step behind congressional acceptance of a national program of old-age insurance was the racial manipulation of the program’s target population so that a national program was sure to be a segregated one. 68 These exclusions removed about five million workers from old-age and unemployment coverage, and they meant that more than half of the black workers in the United States (more than three-fifths in the South) would not be eligible.

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