'Welfare' and the American Dream 'Welfare' and the American Dream

'Welfare' and the American Dream

by Nikhil Swaminathan

December 13, 2008
The New York Times blog Economix put up an interesting post yesterday tracing the evolution of the term "welfare" from temporary help to those sidetracked on their quest for the American dream to a racially charged term for supporting the impoverished and lazy. The word is back in the spotlight--after years buried beneath terrorism, universal healthcare, Iraq, and Social Security--thanks to the economic mess we're in, and McCain invoking the term during the presidential campaign when chracterizing Obama's tax plan.Today, "welfare" is to "public assistance" as "socialized medicine" is to "universal healthcare." But, back in the Great Depression, the archetypal welfare recipient was the prideful farmer, in the Tom Joad-mold, screwed over by the conditions of the Dust Bowl amd just looking for a break. Contrast that with what comes to mind when you think of a modern day person receiving public assistance (more than likely, an African American person). From the Economix post, by R.M. Schneiderman:The reason, experts say, has to do with various social changes that occurred during that decade. They included: a dramatic increase in the number of women and children receiving public assistance, the rise of the notion that people had the right to such assistance, an increase in children born out of wedlock and the presence of large numbers of African-Americans in major northern cities, many of whom had migrated from the South during the 1940s and 1950s.The media is also responsible for protraying the problem as largely a black one in its pictorials and coverage from the 1960s to the 1990s, according to a Princeton professor. The end result: An unfortunate reality where African Americans are seen as less hardworking, and thus less interested in and worthy of the American dream.With the welfare reform of the mid-'90s doing little to ease this perception, is the Obama administration in danger of facing fierce, unwarranted blowback while it institutes desperately needed social programs?Maybe not. After all, McCain's invocation of "welfare" didn't help in getting him elected.(Photo from Flickr user HeroicLife)
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'Welfare' and the American Dream