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26 J. Soc. & Soc. Welfare 175 (1999)
America's Changing Attitudes toward Welfare and Welfare Recipients, 1938-1995

handle is hein.journals/jrlsasw26 and id is 385 raw text is: America's Changing Attitudes Toward
Welfare and Welfare Recipients, 1938-1995
Arizona State University
School of Social Work
This paper examines American national public opinion on welfare, welfare
recipients, and the government's role in welfare programs. The data were
gathered from published public opinion polls of national samples of adults
taken between 1938 and 1995. The findings indicate that public opinion
has remained relatively stable over this 57-year period, with the majority
of Americans believing that the government has a responsibility to help
those in need. At the same time, the majority of those polled believed that
the government spends too much on welfare. The findings also show that
the public is in favor of reducing income differences between the rich and
the poor. During this period, poll data indicate that a growing percentage
of Americans believe that laziness and lack of motivation to work are the
main causes of poverty. The data indicate that approximately half of all
Americans believe that welfare recipients could get along without their
welfare benefits. These findings are discussed in light of current political
attitudes toward social welfare and recent change and proposed changes
in welfare programs.
Welfare, the general label for government-funded public as-
sistance, is one of the most controversial issues in the United
States today. The term welfare was first used shortly after
1900 to replace the phrase charity and correction (Leiby, 1978).
Americans are not, and never have been, in agreement as to how
the government should provide assistance to the poor (Berkowitz
& McQuaid, 1988; Levitan & Shapiro, 1987; Murray, 1984). Ac-
cording to Groskind (1994), welfare ideology is based on people's
beliefs about the causes of poverty, political attitudes toward the
government's role in society, and racial attitudes.
Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, June, 1999, Volume XXVI, Number 2

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