Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Frances Fox Piven

Committee Members

Herbert J. Gans

John H. Mollenkopf

Andrew J. Polsky

Sanford F. Schram

Subject Categories

Political Science


No Relief compares the national repeal of AFDC in 1996 with the widespread campaigns against municipal poor relief that occurred throughout the United States some one hundred years earlier. In both eras businesses and the governments that depended upon them, threatened by growing labor power, civil unrest and the rising costs of poor relief, launched an attack against poor people and the limited benefits available to them. They did not do so directly but under cover of the Charity Organization Societies of the Gilded Age and conservative think tanks of the late twentieth century—"neutral" reform organizations that obscured the class-based nature of their activism. In addition to examining these institutions through which anti-relief campaigns were waged, No Relief explores the arguments used to justify relief reforms (which in both periods drew upon Malthusian and Spencerian ideas about the dangers of a profligate pauper class and the "natural" role of the state); the policies ultimately enacted (which restricted access to relief and made what was still available conditioned upon work or new standards of moral behavior); and the outcomes of such policy changes (which led to rising costs and less effective service provision, in which greater sums of money were distributed to private contractors and not-for-profit service providers, and less money reached those most in need). What reformers achieved was to remove the minimal supports available to poor men and women, forcing them into the low-wage labor market, into marriage, or into prison. No Relief concludes with an analysis of what these cases reveal about the circumstances under which welfare benefits previously extended to citizens can be rescinded with relative impunity and offers some thoughts as to what the ultimate outcomes of relief reform in the late nineteenth century might portend for the beginning of the twenty-first century.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.