Literature on Poverty and Welfare

Last updated: May 24, 2002 

Author of When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor and The Declining Significance of Race, Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy, Harvard University. October 22, 1996.

Edward N. Wolff, "Time for a Wealth Tax?" The Boston Review, February/March 1996.

Richard B. Freeman, "Solving the New Inequality,"The Boston Review, December/January 1996-97. Includes Discussion and Response by Freeman.

John E. Roemer, "Equality and Responsibility," The Boston Review, April/May 1995. Includes the following comments and response:

The New War on Poverty, Boston Review, Summer 1994. Includes additional articles relating to the NWOP.

Nancy Fraser, "Reinventing the Welfare State" Boston Review, February/March 1994. President Clinton says we need to "end the welfare state as we know it." The current welfare state is such a mess that it is hard to disagree. Fraser asks, What should take its place? 

Vivian Rothstein, "Is There a Right to be Homeless?" Boston Review, December/January 1993-94. For ten years, the author has been working with homeless people. She thinks that current advocacy is taking a seriously wrong turn.

Neil Howe and Phillip Longman, "The Next New Deal," The Atlantic Monthly, April 1992.

Nicholas Lemann, "The Other Underclass," (The Atlantic Monthly, 1991). On poverty among Puerto Ricans in the United States.

Thomas Byrne Edsall, "The Return of Inequality ," The Atlantic Monthly, June 1988. "The great bulk of Americans are losing economic and political power, while the affluent are gaining both. This is not a recipe for social comity."

Nicholas Lemann, "The Unfinished War," (The Atlantic Monthly, 1988-89), Part One and Part Two. An insightful history of the war on poverty.

David Whitman, "The Key to Welfare Reform," (The Atlantic Monthly, 1987). "Recent history shows that getting long-term recipients off the rolls is the only way to reduce public-assistance costs. "

Nicholas Lemann, "The Origins of the Underclass" (The Atlantic Monthly, 1986), Part 1 ("The flight of middle-class blacks from ghettos has left a disastrously isolated underclass--one formed less by welfare or a lack of jobs than by its rural-South heritage") and Part II ("Black urban ghettos are poorer and more isolated today than they have ever been. The question remaining is how to reverse the effects of what has become a self-sustaining culture.")

Gregg Easterbrook, "Housing: Examining a Media Myth," The Atlantic Monthly, 1983. "The 'new poor' and homeless discovered by the press a few months ago seem to have vanished; meanwhile, the real poor still need help. "

Irving Kristol, "Welfare: The Best of Intentions, The Worst of Results," (The Atlantic Monthly, 1971).

Focus. Now available on the Web, this journal concentrates on issues of poverty and welfare.

Welfare and Poverty page from Heritage. Many articles are provided in both HTML and Adobe Acrobat 3.0 PDF format.

Robert Rector and Patrick Fagan, "How Welfare Harms Kids." The Heritage Foundation. This site also contains additional articles from the Heritage Foundation on this topic, including:

Project Vote Smart's Poverty and Welfare Issues Resource Page

Welfare Reform: An Analysis of the Issues, edited by Isabel V. Sawhill. The Urban Institute. An extensive collection of articles on welfare reform, including:

Effects of Welfare Bill on Children, the Elderly, and the Disabled (Washington: The Center On Budget and Policy Priorities, 1995.

The Welfare and Families Page of Idea Central, a virtual magazine of the Political Action Network (PAN).

   The New York Times Forum on Welfare Reform.

Steven A. Holmes, "Rich Are Getting Even Richer, Data Shows," The New York Times, June 20, 1996.

Leon Dash's "Rosa Lee's Story" appeared in the Washington Post, Sept. 18-25, 1994, and is now the basis for a book. The winner of both a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory Journalism and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, this series is a finely nuanced and unflinchingly honest yet compassionate portrait of a life of poverty. This is an example of a web-based presentation at its best--the Washington Post has done a great job on this.


Search the Web for more information on poverty

A Survey of Selected Philosophical Literature on Poverty and Welfare

The Nature of Poverty

William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); also see the symposium in Ethics, Vol. 101, No. 3 (April, 1991), pp. 560-609, devoted to this work, with articles by Jennifer Hochschild, "The Politics of the Estranged Poor," and Bernard Boxill, "Wilson on the Truly Disadvantaged," and the response by Wilson.

Poverty and Welfare

Among recent works on poverty and welfare in the United States, see Phoebe H. Cottingham and David T. Ellwood, eds., Welfare Policy for the 1990's (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989); William P. O'Hare, Real Life Poverty in America: Where the American Public Would Set the Poverty Line (Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1990); Joel F. Handler and Yeheskel Hasenfield, The Moral Construction of Poverty: Welfare Reform in America (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1991); Christopher Jencks and Paul E. Peterson, The Urban Underclass (Washington: DC: Brookings Institution, 1991); Marvin Olasky, The Tragedy of American Compassion (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1992) and, for a conservative review of how the issue of single mothers with dependent children was handled in the nineteenth century, also see Olasky's "History's Solutions; Problems of Single Mother and Child Poverty," National Review, Vol. 46, No. 2 (February 7, 1994), pp. 45 ff.; Jacqueline Jones, The Dispossessed: America's Underclasses from the Civil War to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1992); for a more liberal view of these issues, see Mickey Kaus, The End of Equality (New York: Basic Books, 1992); Michael B. Katz, ed., The "Underclass" Debate (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); R. Shep Melnick, Between the Lines: Interpreting Welfare Rights (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1994). Theresa Funiciello's Tyranny of Kindness: Dismantling the Welfare System to End Poverty in America (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993) argues against the bureaucracy of the welfare system and in favor of a guaranteed minimal income. William J. Bennett and Peter Wehner, "Root Causes of Social Ills Lie in Welfare; Public Welfare Reform," Insight on the News, Vol. 10; No. 9 (February 28, 1994), pp. 32 f.; Robert Rector, "Try the Difference Values Can Make; How Public Welfare Assistance Has Contributed to the Demise of Social, Moral, and Family Values," Insight on the News, Vol. 9, No. 50 (December 13, 1993), pp. 22 ff.; for a good overview of the various conservative participants in the welfare discussion and their ideas, see Tom Bethell, "They Had a Dream; the Challenge of Welfare Reform," National Review, Vol. 45; No. 16 (August 23, 1993), pp. 31 ff.

Narrative Accounts

For some extended narrative accounts of poverty, see Irene Glasser, More Than Bread: Ethnography of a Soup Kitchen (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988); Elliot Liebow, Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women (New York: Free Press, 1993); Valeria Polakow, Lives on the Edge: Single Mothers and Their Children in the Other America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); Robert D. Bullard, ed., Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots (Boston: South End Press, 1993). For some recent narrative accounts in newspapers, see Jeanie Russell Kasindorf, "Are They the Problem? Welfare Mothers; Interview," New York Magazine, Vol. 28; No. 6 (February 6, 1995), pp. 28 ff.; Barbara Vobejda, "Welfare an Afterthought, Teen Mothers Say," The Washington Post, (February 14, 1995), A Section; pp. A 01 ff.; Isabel Wilkerson, "An Intimate Look at Welfare: Women Who've Been There," The New York Times (February 17, 1995), Section A, pp. 1 ff.; and "Benefits and Doubts," The Washington Post (February 26, 1995), Magazine, pp. W12 ff. For a good overview of some of the social issues and the available data, see David Whitman, Dorian Friedman, Mike Tharp, and Kate Griffin, "Welfare: The Myth of Reform," U.S. News & World Report, Vol. 118, No. 2 (January 16, 1995), pp. 30 ff., and the accompanying editorial, Mortimer B. Zuckerman, "Fixing the Welfare Mess, "U.S. News & World Report, Vol. 118 ; No. 2 (January 16, 1995), pp. 68 ff. On the web, see Leon Dash's Pulitzer Prize winning, "Rosa Lee's Story," which appeared in the Washington Post, Sept. 18-25, 1994, and is now the basis for a book.

Women and Poverty

The issue of poverty has a special impact on women. For some narrative accounts, see the Lievow and Polakow volumes cited above. Among the excellent recent studies of this issue are Paul E. Zoph, Jr., American Women in Poverty (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989); Lourdes Beneria and Shelley Feldman, eds., Unequal Burden: Economic Crises, Persistent Poverty, and Women's Work (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1992); Pamela D. Couture, Blessed Are the Poor? Women's Poverty, Family Policy, and Practical Theology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991); Harrell R. Rodgers, Jr., Poor Women, Poor Families: Single Mothers and Their Children in the Other America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

Race and Poverty

For contrasting views of Latinos and poverty in the United States, see Linda Chavez, Out of the Barrio: Toward New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation (New York: Basic Books, 1991) and Rebecca Morales and Frank Bonilla, eds., Latinos in a Changing U.S. Economy: Comparative Perspectives on Growing Inequality (Newbury Park: Sage, 1993)

Among the works on African-Americans and poverty (in addition to those already cited), see Maurence E. Lynn, Jr., and Michael G. H. McGeary, eds., Inner-City Poverty in the United States (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1990); Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America (New York: Knopf, 1991); Gary Orfield and Carol Ashkinaze, The Closing Door: Conservative Policy and Black Opportunity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Christopher Jencks, Rethinking Social Policy: Race, Poverty, and the Underclass (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); Andrew Hacker, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal (New York: Scribner's, 1992); James Jennings, ed., Race, Politics, and Economic Development: Community Perspectives (New York: Verso, 1992); Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).

Distributive Justice

One of the central moral issues raised in this chapter has been the nature of distributive justice. Among the excellent anthologies in this area, see John Arthur and William Shaw, eds., Justice and Economic Distribution (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978) and Virginia Held, ed., Property, Profits, and Economic Justice (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1980). For a collection of libertarian pieces on this issue, see Tibor Machan, ed., The Libertarian Alternative: Essays in Social and Political Philosophy (Chicago: Nelson-Hall Co., 1977).

For a strong statement of the liberal conception of justice, see John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard, 1974) and, more recently, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia, 1993); also see Brian Barry's Theories of Justice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989). For a strongly contrasting libertarian conception of justice, see: Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974); the work of F. A. Hayek, especially The Mirage of Social Justice, which is volume 2 of his Law, Legislation, and Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976); and Tibor Machan's Individuals and Their Rights (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1989). For an excellent attempt to reconcile these and other widely divergent views of justice, see James P. Sterba, How to Make People Just: A Practical Reconciliation of Alternative Concepts of Justice (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1988); for his most recent reply to Machan and others, see James P. Sterba, "From Liberty to Welfare," Ethics, 105, 1 (October, 1994), pp. 64-98. For an excellent short survey of distributive conceptions of justice, see Allen Buchanan, "Justice, Distributive," in Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), Vol. I, pp. 655-661.

Summaries of Recent Literature
on Poverty and Welfare



Suggestions for Discussion Questions
and Term Paper Topics

Conditions of Welfare?


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