PubPol 746

PubPol 746: Social Welfare Policy

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Winter 2022
Course Section
U-M Course Number
Credit Hours

Social Welfare Policy in the United States: 
From the War on Poverty to the Covid-19 Pandemic

This course examines U.S. social welfare programs and policies targeting the nonelderly poor, examining how they have evolved over the last five decades, and placing particular emphasis on the expansion of the social safety-net during the Covid-19 pandemic. The course emphasizes understanding what we know from social science research about the strengths and weaknesses of these policies, including recent evidence around the impact of Covid-19 relief efforts, and how they may impact safety-net policies in the years ahead. 

The course begins by addressing basic questions about the measurement and incidence of poverty in the U.S., and then surveys the scope of current social welfare programs. What does it mean to be poor in the U.S. today? How do the extent of poverty and income inequality and the scope of social welfare programs in the U.S. compare to those in other industrialized countries? 

We will review the development of social welfare programs and policies from the War on Poverty that was declared by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Attention will be given to understanding trends in poverty, mobility and inequality.

This course will then explore changes to public provision for the poor that were adopted during the 1990s, including expansions of refundable tax credits (most notably the Earned Income Tax Credit), liberalization of eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) and public health insurance for children. Attention is paid to the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) and how the cash welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), that replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), has affected the work effort and well-being of current and former welfare recipients and other individuals.

Finally, we will outline the ways in which the social safety-net expanded during the Covid-19 pandemic, and look at how this expansion has impacted income poverty and material hardship. We will also use the Covid-19 safety as a platform for discussing the merits of prominent policy prescriptions, such as a universal child allowance or a universal basic income, and how policies not primarily targeting poverty can nevertheless greatly impact disadvantaged families. Course assignments include a policy analysis research paper in two parts (with a problem analysis and solution analysis), and a final examination.