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Jill Quadagno's Color of Welfare

Date:         Thu, 20 Oct 1994 11:27:00 -0500
From:         Larry G Gerber <gerbelg@mail.auburn.edu>
Subject:      Jill Quadagno's Color of Welfare

I have recently returned from the Social Science History Association meeting in Atlanta where I attended a panel of particular interest to subscribers to H-State. What follows is a brief summary of the discussion at a roundtable on Jill Quadagno's new book, THE COLOR OF WELFARE: HOW RACISM UNDERMINED THE WAR ON POVERTY.

The panel was chaired by H-State editorial board member Ann Orloff, who started off by summarizing Quadagno's argument concerning the importance of race in shaping the development of the modern welfare state. According to Orloff, Quadagno highlights the importance of race over such other factors as the weakness of class consciousness among American workers, polity-centered interpretations focusing on the institutional structure of American politics (especially the significance of federalism), or the pervasive liberalism (antistatism) of American values. Orloff praised Quadagno's work as an important contribution to an understanding of the development of American social policy, but argued that race could not be isolated as a sufficient explanatory factor.

Larry Bobo agreed with Quadagno's emphasis on the importance of race, but stated that he would have liked Quadagno to have made more of an effort to explain why race has become such a powerful force in the shaping of public policy. Why, he asked, has race so often "trumped" class.

Gwendolyn Mink, while acknowledging the importance of Quadagno's book, offered several criticisms. Perhaps most importantly, she argued that Quadagno had paid too little attention to questions of gender in analyzing the development of poverty and social welfare programs. She also claimed that Quadagno had focused too much on the role of the executive branch in the formation of policy and not enough on Congress. Mink also spent some time discussing Quadagno's treatment of Nixon's family assistance plan (FAP). Mink contended that Quadagno paints too rosy a picture of FAP and Nixon's role in advancing it. Rather than being a truly "progressive" proposal, Mink sees FAP as flawed from the start, especially when gender is factored into the analysis.

Theda Skocpol could not be present at the session, but Orloff read her comments. Skocpol challenged Quadagno's emphasis on race. While acknowledging that race played some role in influencing social policy, Skocpol argued that other institutional and historical factors, such as uneven economic development across different regions resulting in substantially different benefit levels in the various state welfare programs, proved to be more important obstacles to fundamental reform. Skocpol even asserted that if Americans were all white, the outcome for social policy might well have been the same. She also criticized Quadagno for viewing social security in too negative a light (Quadagno pointed out the system's differential impact on blacks and whites, and on men and women) and therefore giving moral support to current rightist attacks on the system. Skocpol argued that social security is America's one truly progressive social program by virtue of its universal coverage and deserves to be defended from conservative critics.

Sven Hort offered a comparative (European) perspective on Quadagno's work and basically agreed with her emphasis on race. He noted, however, that while race was once identified primarily with the "southern question" in American history, it now has become identified with the "urban question" that plagues the nation. He believed that Quadagno did not adequately develop this theme in her book.

Jill Quadagno had some time to respond to her critics. She stated that it had not been her intention to claim that race was THE factor that explains the history of social welfare in America. Rather, she said that since in her view previous historians and sociologists had paid too little attention to the racial factor, she thought it was appropriate to focus on its importance as one of a number of factors that was critical in shaping the outcome of policy debates in the 1960s and 1970s.

The roundtable also produced a lively discussion after the formal presentations. H-Staters may wish to continue the discussion.

Larry Gerber, Co-moderator H-State
Auburn University History Dept.

From:         "E. Wayne Carp,H-State co-moderator"  <CARPW@PLU.edu>
Date:         Thu, 20 Oct 1994 21:04:11 -0700
From:         "E. Wayne Carp, H-State co-moderator" <CARPW@PLU.edu>
Subject:      Jill Quadagno's Color of Welfare

Subject: Re: Jill Quadagno's Color of Welfare

Thanks, Larry Gerber, for the summary. I am a definite lurker, primarily a latinamericanist, but very glad to see that this type of work and discussion takes place here in the least welfare of states.....betts putnam

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