States of Dependency

Welfare, Rights, and American Governance, 1935–1972


Who bears responsibility for the poor, and who may exercise the power that comes with that responsibility? Amid the Great Depression, American reformers answered this question in new ways, with profound effects on long-standing practices of governance and entrenched understandings of citizenship. States of Dependency traces New Deal welfare programs over the span of four decades, asking what happened as money, expertise and ideas travelled from a federal administrative epicenter in Washington, DC, through state and local bureaucracies, and into diverse and divided communities. Drawing on a wealth of previously un-mined legal and archival sources, Karen Tani reveals how reformers attempted to build a more bureaucratic, centralized and uniform public welfare system; how traditions of localism, federalism and hostility toward the 'undeserving poor' affected their efforts; and how, along the way, more and more Americans came to speak of public income support in the powerful but limiting language of law and rights. The resulting account moves beyond attacking or defending Americans' reliance on the welfare state to explore the complex network of dependencies undergirding modern American governance.
  • Cambridge University Press; April 2016
  • ISBN 9781316490648
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure EPUB format
  • Title: States of Dependency
  • Author: Karen M. Tani
  • Imprint: Cambridge University Press

In The Press

'States of Dependency inverts the story of New Deal social benefits to provide a fresh perspective on the story of state-building. Tani explains how federal authorities relied on the language of rights to legitimize new programs, only to run afoul of local communities. This powerful book suggests how providing relief led to a stronger central government with the authority to scrutinize individual lives. I'm persuaded!' Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia University, and author of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America