The Public Interest

What welfare crisis? - a comparison among the United States, Britain, and Sweden

Hugh Heclo & Martin Rein

Fall 1973

FOR more than a decade Americans have lamented their welfare crisis. Costs have tripled since 1960. The welfare population has climbed inexorably. Aid for Dependent Children (AFDC) is accepted as the symbol for social disintegration and family problems among the poor. By 1972 the number of its recipients had risen fivefold since the mid-1950’s, doubling just since 1967; the average annual rate of increase in AFDC recipients jumped from 7.3 per cent during 1953-66 to 18.3 per cent during 1967-71. Such estimates of mushrooming welfare rates led Congress and the Executive to conclude that, far from curing economic dependency, American welfare programs have only spread the “disease.” They alleged that here is a system which fails both those who receive and those who pay. The extent of welfare growth amid affluence is perceived as a standing indictment: Something must be wrong with the program and its recipients. Worse, something must be wrong with American society itself.

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