Welfare culture
Welfare culture refers to the behavioral consequences of providing poverty relief (i.e., welfare
Welfare refers to a broad discourse which may hold certain implications regarding the provision of a minimal level of wellbeing and social support for all citizens without the stigma of charity. This is termed "social solidarity"...

) to low-income individuals. Welfare is considered a type of social protection
Social protection
Social protection, as defined by the United Nations Research Institute For Social Development, is concerned with preventing, managing, and overcoming situations that adversely affect people’s well being...

, which may come in the form of remittances, such as ‘welfare checks’, or subsidized services, such as free/reduced healthcare, affordable housing, and more. Pierson (2006) has acknowledged that, like poverty
Poverty is the lack of a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution is inability to afford basic human needs, which commonly includes clean and fresh water, nutrition, health care, education, clothing and shelter. About 1.7 billion people are estimated to live...

, welfare creates behavioral ramifications, and that studies differ regarding whether welfare empowers individuals or breeds dependence on government aid. Pierson also acknowledges that the evidence of the behavioral effects of welfare varies across countries (such as Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

, France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

, Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

, and Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 to name a few), because different countries implement different systems of welfare.

Evidence of the behavioral effects of poverty

Anthropologist Oscar Lewis
Oscar Lewis
Oscar Lewis was an American anthropologist who is best known for his vivid depictions of the lives of slum dwellers and for postulating that there was a cross-generational culture of poverty among poor people that transcended national boundaries...

  studied the behavioral effects of poverty on indigent Mexicans. Lewis introduced the concept of the “culture of poverty
Culture of poverty
The culture of poverty is a social theory that expands on the cycle of poverty. Proponents of this theory argue that the poor are not simply lacking resources, but also have a unique value system...

” in which he proposed almost seventy personality traits that comprise the mentality of the impoverished, including helplessness, disdain for the government, lack of confidence, hopelessness, and a sense of futility that accompanies the search for employment.

Evidence of the behavioral effects of welfare in the United States

In the United States, the debate over the impact of welfare traces back as far as the New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

, but later became a more mainstream political controversy with the birth of modern welfare under President Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

’s Great Society
Great Society
The Great Society was a set of domestic programs in the United States promoted by President Lyndon B. Johnson and fellow Democrats in Congress in the 1960s. Two main goals of the Great Society social reforms were the elimination of poverty and racial injustice...

. The term "welfare culture", however, was not coined until 1986 by Lawrence M. Mead
Lawrence M. Mead
Lawrence M. Mead is a Professor in the Department of Politics at New York University, where he is currently Professor of Politics and Public Policy.Mead is best known as an expert on poverty and welfare in the United States...


Welfare in the United States

Welfare may be used to refer to any government-based aid used to promote the well-being of its citizens. But, in recent decades, welfare has been restricted to refer to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF), which provides monthly stipends for indigent families that meet a specific array of criteria. “Welfare culture” uses the more broad interpretation of welfare. Namely, welfare refers to any and all government provided social programs. However, scholars like David Ellwood and Lawrence Summers (1985) believe that the debate over welfare culture could be more accurate if each specific welfare program were examined individually. Specific programs include: Medicare
Medicare (United States)
Medicare is a social insurance program administered by the United States government, providing health insurance coverage to people who are aged 65 and over; to those who are under 65 and are permanently physically disabled or who have a congenital physical disability; or to those who meet other...

, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, disability benefits
Disability benefits
In the United Kingdom disability benefits are benefits paid to a person who is sick or who has a disability. Disability benefits include;* Disability Living Allowance* Attendance Allowance* Incapacity Benefit* Severe Disablement Allowance...

, and others.

Evolution of the debate in the United States

Kent R. Weaver argues that most scholars cite the Social Security Act of 1935 as the origin of the American welfare state
American welfare state
Social programs in the United States are those institutions, supported or managed by the U.S. government, that aim to ensure economic security, universal access to the resources for self-development and the reduction of social suffering, such as poverty and illness. The main guiding philosophy for...

. This New Deal reform enacted a wide expanse of services for the poor and financially stressed, including: unemployment benefits, Aid to Families with Dependent Children
Aid to Families with Dependent Children
Aid to Families with Dependent Children was a federal assistance program in effect from 1935 to 1996, which was administered by the United States Department of Health and Human Services...

 (later replaced in by the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program under the Clinton
Clinton is an English family name, indicating one's ancestors came from English places called Glympton or Glinton. Clinton has frequently been used as a given name in the United States since the late 19th century, probably originally in honor of DeWitt Clinton or one of his famous relatives...

 Administration), retirement income stipends, subsidized housing, and many others.

Scholars such as June Axinn and Mark J. Stern (2007) estimate that the Social Security Act of 1935, and the newly institutionalized programs accompanying the New Deal, increased the capacity to find employment, avoid starvation, and secure some form of affordable housing. Furthermore, economist Robert Cohen (1973) estimated that the New Deal sparked a reduction in unemployment from 20% to 15% by the end of the 1940s. A number of other scholars, however, attest to an increased sense of entitlement that began to pervade the American consciousness, forcing Americans to rely on government provided jobs and aid in lieu of developing entrepreneurial abilities.

Stanley Feldman and John Zaller (1992) cite a number of economists and political historians who opposed government-based aid, because such critics credit the economic stimulus during World War II as the true solution to the unemployment and poverty of the Great Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

. During the war, American industries began to produce military weapons, food, and other material needs for the troops. This new economic incentive, in addition to a net export and an influx in gold, reduced interest rates, increased investments, and sparked job growth. Christine Romber (1992) and various other economic historians began to criticize the New Deal as the cause for unnecessary and unjustified reliance on government programs.

However, Jerold Rusk (2008), a political scientist, recognizes a consensus among economic, history, and political scholars, which acknowledges that the effects of the New Deal are difficult to separate from the effects of World War II. Thus, according to Rusk, we are prevented from drawing any legitimate conclusion on the debate.

In the early 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

 began his War on Poverty
War on Poverty
The War on Poverty is the unofficial name for legislation first introduced by United States President Lyndon B. Johnson during his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. This legislation was proposed by Johnson in response to a national poverty rate of around nineteen percent...

 by introducing many new elements to welfare, including Medicare, Medicaid, increases in subsidized public housing, and more. David Frum (2002) believed such increases in government programs were counterproductive, because he found positive correlations between government aid and those who could not stay above the poverty line without such aid. Frum concluded that welfare only bred dependence on the government.

During the Johnson administration, sociologist and U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick "Pat" Moynihan was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times . He declined to run for re-election in 2000...

 published a study on the impacts of welfare on behavior during the 1960s. His report, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action
The Negro Family: The Case For National Action
The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, also known as the Moynihan Report was written by then-sociologist and later U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and released in 1965...

" (1965) is commonly referred to as the “Moynihan Report”.

The Moynihan Report advocates for increased welfare for poor black families, but also expressed that welfare does not empower the destitute to find solutions to their financial troubles. Moynihan states: “The breakdown of the negro family has led to a startling increase in welfare dependency,” and that welfare, although helpful, constituted a reactive measure, failing to address the true roots of poverty. Moynihan concluded that more proactive means to empower black families include the promotion of vocational training and a value in education.

Johnson’s precedent for increasing welfare benefits hit its pinnacle in the late 1970s under President Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter
James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr. is an American politician who served as the 39th President of the United States and was the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize, the only U.S. President to have received the Prize after leaving office...

  when Temporary Assistance to Needy Family (TANF) recipients were receiving $238 a month (adjusted for inflation). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a strong correlation with poverty reduction is noted for this period, suggesting a link between welfare and empowerment. Poverty dropped from 23% of the population to 12% during the Johnson years. Poverty did not see an increase again until 1982 with 15% of Americans facing poverty, two years after welfare programs experienced serious cuts under President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....


However, these findings are not without their criticisms. According to the United States Census Bureau, poverty had already begun to decrease before Johnson passed the Equal Opportunity Act of 1996. Additionally, unemployment reached some of its lowest rates in history under President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

 near the end of 1950s. Before Eisenhower left office, unemployment was estimated to be less than 5%.

In 1986, Lawrence Mead introduced a series of studies on welfare culture. Mead compared changes in income levels and welfare benefits across urban dwellers from the 1960s through the 1980s. Mead’s studies suggest that over half of all welfare recipients will not need to stay on welfare for more than 10 years, yet only 12% will be off welfare in less than 3 years. Mead concludes that welfare has demonstrated some proven effects for helping impoverished families meet their basic needs and find employment, thus acting as a tool for empowerment. However, Mead acknowledges that the welfare system can do better. Mead believes welfare culture could breed empowerment more effectively if mandatory participation in education/job training programs were required for welfare recipients.

See also

  • Welfare's effect on poverty
    Welfare's effect on poverty
    The effect of social welfare on poverty is controversial. Since the goal of welfare programs is to reduce poverty, it has been debated, primarily in the United States, whether or not welfare programs achieve this goal....

  • Criticisms of welfare
    Criticisms of welfare
    The notion, and the extent of, the modern welfare state has been criticised on both economic and social grounds, from both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum.- Libertarian & Conservative criticisms :...

  • Cycle of poverty
    Cycle of poverty
    In economics, the cycle of poverty is the "set of factors or events by which poverty, once started, is likely to continue unless there is outside intervention."...

  • Social mobility
    Social mobility
    Social mobility refers to the movement of people in a population from one social class or economic level to another. It typically refers to vertical mobility -- movement of individuals or groups up from one socio-economic level to another, often by changing jobs or marrying; but can also refer to...

  • Social insurance
    Social insurance
    Social insurance is any government-sponsored program with the following four characteristics:* the benefits, eligibility requirements and other aspects of the program are defined by statute;...

  • Social floor
    Social floor
    A is a basic set of social rights, services and facilities that every person should enjoy. The United Nations suggests that a SPF could consist of two main elements that help to realize human rights:...

  • Horatio Alger myth
    Horatio Alger myth
    The "Horatio Alger myth" is a criticism of the rags to riches message in books by Horatio Alger, Jr. . Alger wrote over 100 books for young working class males, beginning with Ragged Dick, which was published in 1867. His books have been described as rags to riches stories...

  • Welfare economics
    Welfare economics
    Welfare economics is a branch of economics that uses microeconomic techniques to evaluate economic well-being, especially relative to competitive general equilibrium within an economy as to economic efficiency and the resulting income distribution associated with it...

  • Welfare system

Further reading

Buss, Terry F. 2001. “The Effect of State Tax Incentives on Economic Growth and Firm Location Decisions: An Overview of Literature,” Economic Development Quarterly, 15(1): 90-105.

Cohen, Patricia. “Culture of Poverty Makes a Comeback.” New York Times (New York, NY), Oct 17, 2010.

Kingfisher, Catherine Pelissier. 1996. Women in the Welfare Trap. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania UP.
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