Pitied but Not Entitled

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Linda Gordon traces the minor 1935 Social Security Act’s program for aid to families with dependent children (AFDC) from turn-of-the-century child institutionalization and labor exploitation resistance and mothers aid roots to its current stigmatization and the disproportionate representation of minorities as the result of restricted opportunity, discrimination, and poverty. Modern welfare conflicts arise from lingering hostility to single motherhood and the poor; the clash between single motherhood patterns of poor black migrants from the rural South to the urban North and the favored expectation of widowed or “separated” women and their children as recipients; and concern about the permanency of single motherhood status.

The 1920s’ welfare improvements, a victory for feminist reformers against female and child destitution and abusive marriages, was assisted by state law changes aiding housing, insurance, labor protection and minimum wage entitlements, with political opposition quieted by state and local discretion, casework, and client identification. Engineered by independent-minded women at the Children’s and Women’s Bureau, 1920’s welfare was also characterized by class double standards and the focus on children. Male-dominated social insurance movements also contributed the idea of public entitlement. Emergency federal aid with work programs and aged and unemployed provision discriminated against single mothers and minorities;...

(The entire section is 525 words.)