A Class Analysis of Welfare

  • Richard Cloward
  • Frances Fox Piven
Keywords: Political Economy


The program we call welfare provides a bare subsistence income to four million women raising children. It costs $22 billion dollars, much less than 1 percent of the federal budget, and only 2 or 3 percent of most state budgets. Yet this small program has become the focus of big intellectual and political guns. Liberals and conservatives agree that welfare is our big problem, bad for the country, and bad for the poor. Presumably, it drains public budgets and reduces work effort. And by allowing poor mothers to opt out of paid work, it saps their initiative, and nourishes the cultural and psychological disabilities attributed to the "underclass." As a result, welfare is said to worsen poverty. The proposed remedies vary, but they usually involve cutting benefits and pushing mothers into the labor market.