A Brief History of Welfare in the United States
Public welfare began in England as a response to an economic problem. During the 1500s, the British feudal system was breaking up. Feudalism had given each individual a role to play, based upon economic position. When the original colonists came to America, they brought with them elements of the Elizabethan Poor Law. The Progressive Era followed on the heels of the poorhouse movement and embodied a strong reaction against institutionalization of the poor. From the colonial period through the progressive period, providing for the poor was a function of local government in combination with private charity. The New Deal marked the beginning of a new era in American welfare politics. The welfare system originated in an economic crisis. The welfare system of the 1930s was soon under attack, and the attacks were usually based on the idea that welfare was eroding individualism and personal responsibility.