Social Welfare Policy GOVT 2305
One Definition: the principles, activities, or framework for action adopted by a government to ensure a socially defined level of individual, family and community well being. – Source.
Some online reading:Pearson: Social Policy and the American Welfare State. Cengage: Chapter Outline.
Here’s a great website where you lose a hour or two: The Social Welfare History Project.
The term is used to describe the policies and programs designed to address poverty and the lack of opportunity in society.In short, these are policies that are addressed to help the poor.
These policies can exist on all levels of government.They can also be established by private organizations as well as public institutions.
There is a tremendous degree of overlap between social welfare policy and many other types of policies. Health and Education policy, as well as policies related to jobs and criminal justice can fall under the broad heading of social welfare as well.
In this section we stick primarily with policies directly related to the poor and how (or whether) they are to be given assistance.
We will focus primarily on Social Security and the various policies associated with it, as well as the policies promoted by Lyndon Johnson as part of his War on Poverty.We will also look at the backlash against these programs and determine the current state of social welfare policy.
We will focus on what are referred to – often negatively – as welfare policies. The Welfare State
Various countries have different views on what provisions and benefits ought to be provided to its citizens. Most countries are far more generous than the United States. And more states are far more generous than Texas.Much of this is the product of the political culture of both.
Should a social safety net be provided for the people? Should society guarantee to its citizens a certain standard of living, or should everyone be on their own completely?
The following programs and policies are related to social welfare policy: Social SecurityMedicareMedicaidHead StartTemporary Assistance for Needy FamiliesUnemployment Insurance
Social Welfare policy begins with the premise that inequality in income and wealth is a problem that can be addressed by governmental policies. The question is multi faceted: Should government intervene? If so how? And might governmental intervention cause more harm than good?
There’s no consensus about that. Some disagree that that poverty is a problem that requires governmental intervention. Social welfare policy is among the most controversial and contentious policies.
And even if there is agreement that this is a problem, there is disagreement about what the nature of the problem is. This means that there is disagreement over what the solutions to the problem ought to be.
Here’s an ancient question: Why are people poor? Through factors related to the greater society or to individual failings? This distinction matters.
Who are the poor? The elderly?Children?Ethnic minorities?Women?
Should they all be treated the same? Is poverty similar in all groups, or is it distinct?Childhood poverty as opposed to old age poverty for example. Each is distinct and requires a unique set of policies to address.
Questions about the facts associated with poverty.There are disputes regarding the extent of poverty in the United States and what factors make people poor. - See poverties.org.
For random background see the Wikipedia on Poverty in the United States, especially its section on measures of poverty. It mentions that poverty can be considered in absolute or relative terms.
Absolute poverty is measured by poverty thresholds, which the Census Bureau uses to estimate the number of people in poverty, and by the HHS to determine who is eligible for assistance.
So we have two ways to measure absolute poverty:Poverty ThresholdPoverty Line
The poverty threshold refers to an income level that marks the difference between living and poverty and not living in poverty.The level is based on a formula which focuses primarily on the minimal cost of food needed to sustain a family. Click here for how the formula was established.
A family of four is judges to be in poverty if their after tax income is less than three times the amount they would be expected to pay on food based on the thrifty food plan.
The "Orshansky Poverty Thresholds.“The Development and History of the U.S. Poverty Thresholds – A Brief Overview.Next up: a timeline of people below the threshold 1959 – 2009.
Criticisms: It might overestimate poverty by not taking into consideration welfare policies that provide assistance in purchasing food.
Criticisms: It might underestimate poverty by not taking into consideration other necessities that have experienced greater degrees of inflation than food – shelter and education for example.
The poverty guidelines are created by the Department of Health and Human Services to determine financial eligibility for federal programs. These are tied into non-discretionary programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Here’s an interesting – constitutional point – what authorization exists within the Constitution to collect this information? Some opposition exists to the very idea that this information be collected since it can lead to calls for federal action. The next slide has links to recent stories about a controversy over whether the Census’ American Community Survey should be funded.
- Survey for health, poverty benefits threatened in Congress- Getting rid of census survey is wasteful- Don’t Replace Data With Ideology
The point is simple. If people have no statistical evidence of the existence or nature of poverty, there’s little ability to promote policies to address it.
Again, both of these measures are related to the absolute level of poverty in the United States. Many policies in existence are tied into these measures. It is often, and controversially, pointed out that absolute poverty in the United States is nowhere near as bad as it is in many foreign nations.
Creature comforts can be relatively easily attained – indoor plumbing, televisions, refrigerators, cell phones etc….In material terms, today’s poor (in the US anyway) live better than the kings of yesterday.
So here’s the political question(s): Is absolute poverty in the United States a problem that government should attempt to solve? Could it be that poverty is a condition that has no real solution? Or perhaps the solution to poverty has already been established and sufficient means have been put in place to solve it, its just up to each individual to take advantage of it? Or perhaps there are those who see the existence of poverty as means of ensuring that they stay in positions of privilege.
But poverty can also be relative. How poor are people relative to others? This also can have a political component since the poorer one is the less power one has to positively impact policies that affect them.
This gets into highly controversial areas. Is income and wealth inequality in the US a problem that requires intervention? Does economic inequality lead to political inequality and does this pose a problem for democracy? Does it also violate basic principles of fairness?
Big Issue: How do we know there is inequality in the US? How do we measure it? Economists commonly study the distribution of wealth and income and worry about its effects.
And a quick clarifying point: Income refers to how much is earned by and individual or other entity in a given timeframe – usually a year.Wealth refers to the quantity of money, property or other possessions held by an individual or other entity.
The most common measure of income inequality is the Gini coefficient. The lower the number the more equal the distribution, the higher the number the less equal the distribution.
The following graph shows how inequality has fluctuated over American history.
Here is a measure of the inequality of counties in the United States using a different measuring technique, the Thiel index:
Notice that two of the most unequal counties in the United State are in Texas: Dallas and Harris Counties.Does this negatively impact politics in the state?
In a related note, does this inequality allow for social mobility? We like to think that people in the United States can rise in society relatively easily, but is this true? Is there evidence supporting the idea?