The history of American social welfare policy and social work can be read as a series of “pendulum” swings, moving back and forth between a more conservative and more progressive/liberal perspectives. This is evidenced by its history for the past a hundred years. In the early years of the 20th century, the American social security relied on families, communities and religious charitable organizations. This had been influenced by traditions. The predominant activity was farming. As time went by, the industrialization of the economy came in with growth of cities and migration(Stoesz et al, 2009).
Social work involves efforts by the governments and social organizations to improve the general wellbeing of the people. It may include financial support or empowerment in terms of skills to help people in need get a job to be able to raise their living standards. From the colonial era, the aid for the poor in society came from the neighbors or the community or towns when is was difficult at the local level. This was done in unorganized way. It was developed into financial assistance and pension programs for single mothers. This way, they would be able to provide for their children while still at their homes and not move to foster homes. Later, aid for the old and the blind was incorporated. In order to deal with the new challenges of the industrialized economy, the government came up with a social policy which was funded by the government. Through this policy, social protection became a public right. This followed by employees compensation, retirement and benefits to members of the armed forces
Major changes came in the 1930s during the Great depression when Roosevelt established a social security welfare program, ‘New Deal’, through programs like Aid to Dependent Children program. The aim of this social welfare measure was to invest in public projects that would raise the economic situation and provide employment opportunities. It also catered for risks associated with the old age and loss of jobs or unemployment. Families were also catered for. This has however expanded to cater for millions of poor American families. Other reforms came in the 1960s during Johnsons reign through additional programs like Medicare (which caters for those above 65 years of age) and Medicaid (which caters for the medical bills for low income earners and the poor in the society)(Stoesz et al, 2009).
The following decade, measures dealing with social protection which included insurance policies, financing of workers and the government’s financial help to the poor in the society were established. These policies included the informal sector that had been ignored for long. This was due to the increased levels of poverty and the inequality that had gradually developed.
Things remained unchanged for thirty years when controversial law on social welfare dominated. Reforms were passed by the congress and signed by the president then, Bill Clinton through programs that catered for social welfare, housing, nutrition, child care and support. It was signed in the 1996.The issue of social welfare had been controversial countrywide for more than six years so that presidential candidate Bill Clinton used it as a campaign tool in 1992 by promising a change. The controversies surrounding these reforms have been majorly between conservatives and the liberals.
While the conservatives claim that the law brought major positive changes in social welfare of the people, liberals claimed that the changes had been due to the improving economic conditions in the country and the associated low unemployment rates. That poverty levels had not reduced with improved social welfare levels. Due to this, the liberals were worried of how the situation would be when the economy goes down. They also argued that the program had made the poor more dependent on the government support. The program was therefore changed from Aid for Families with Dependent Children(AFDC) to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF). Unlike the previous law TANF reduces assistance by 5 years, the adults on this program should work for 2 years as well as other limitations.
Unlike in the historical times, the US government today develops programs guided by a specific problem rather than on general view. Social welfare assistance has also been decentralized to also include the private sector. This is especially through medical insurance policies and management of income benefits. Long term measures need to be taken to cater for the financing of the social security fund program whose burden is increasing daily due to the increasing percentage of the old people in America’s population.
The US Census Bureau report(2010) defines a person with an earning of less than $21,954 as poor. This accounts for eleven percent of the US families or 43 million people. These receive financial government support to cater for their basic needs. These reports show that a few American families still require financial assistance. Fortunately, the number of individuals volunteering and charitable organizations has increased thus taking up part of the burden from the government which takes 50% of its expenditures to these programs.
The US approach to poverty can be termed as progressive. This is because it first started with community involvement without the government assistance and without much organization, to government supported programs. Today, both the government and the community actively participate in this area. The government is also discouraging overreliance by the poor to these grants. This way the burden will eventually decrease. However, the percentage of the government expenditure that goes to the poor should gradually be reduced and seek other methods long lasting and participatory ways of improving their living standards other than grants.