Bruce S. Jansson

The Reluctant Welfare State: Engaging History to Advance Social Work Practice in Contemporary Society

"This is a very strong book and the author has made it even better. Jansson is one of the intellectual lights of our profession and his work has revolutionized the way we conceive of and teach social policy"
–Professor John McNutt, currently at the School of Social Work of the University of South Carolina


"The most thorough and well-rounded social welfare history text in print"
–Gretchen Cotrell, Boise State University


"An inclusive, balanced, historical, and contemporary chronicle of the ambivalent evolution of social welfare policy in America"
–Cynthia Ratchford, Atlanta University


This book provides a critical view of American social policies as they have evolved from the colonial period through the first years of the Presidency of Barack Obama. It identifies contextual factors that have impeded the development of public funding and policies to address significant social problems like homelessness, poverty, specific health and mental health conditions, and problems encountered by children in education and child welfare sectors. It also identifies contextual factors that have fostered the development of public policies and funding in the United States. It analyzes how these conflicting factors have yielded the growth of a "reluctant" welfare state that grew markedly in the 20th and 21st centuries, but that has neglected many social problems or conferred harsh programs and minimal benefits for 13 vulnerable populations. The needs, perspectives, and empowerment strategies of these vulnerable populations are discussed throughout the book.

The first chapter outlines key eras in the evolution of the American welfare state extending from the colonial period to the present, as well as conflicting ideologies. It asks readers to learn from exemplary efforts of many reformers who have worked to enact humane policies.

The second chapter provides ethical-reasoning tools to foster critical analysis of the American welfare state, including an extended discussion of social justice. It discusses factors that constrain and promote the development of public funding and policies to address social problems. It presents a policy-practice framework that is used in succeeding chapters to discuss how leaders and reformers have succeeded in expanding the scope of the American welfare state even when encountering resistance from special interests or public officials who oppose specific social reforms.

The evolution of the American welfare state is discussed in Chapters 3 through 12, including the colonial period, the 19th century, the progressive era, the New Deal, the Great Society, the paradoxical period of the 1970s, the conservative period of the 1980s and early 1990s, and policies during the presidencies of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

I identify failed policies of specific historical eras to encourage critical evaluation of policies. I provide key inserts throughout the book, including ones on ethical analysis and policy analysis. I provide brief bio-sketches of persons who achieved major policy reforms in specific historical periods and ask readers to use the policy-practice framework to analyze why their strategies were successful.

A "Policy Scoreboard" is provided in each historical chapter to summarize key enactments in specific eras that have survived to the present period--as well as a summary Policy Scoreboard that identifies key policies of the contemporary American welfare state. Factors the constrain and promote the development of public responsibility for social problems are discussed at considerable length in Chapter 13 and used to provide an overview of the evolution of the reluctant American welfare state.

Chapter 14 provides a methodology and example of a social policy background and advocacy document that can be used to link that past with the present. It outlines the evolution of a social problem, such as homelessness, in recent American history, describes the "trail" of recent policy enactments to address it, and develops a promising policy initiative that could be considered to address it in contemporary society.

This book provides considerable information about the social problems of vulnerable populations in each era, as well as empowerment strategies used by them.

Web sites and inserts are provided frequently in this book to encourage readers to engage in critical thinking about their nation and its specific policies.

Selected Works

Nonfiction
This book provides the first detailed framework for health advocacy by members of the health and helping professions at both case (or patient) and policy levels
A pioneering book on the practice of policy and policy advocacy for professionals and Americans.
This book provides a critical analysis of the evolution of the American welfare state from colonial times to the present, as well as discussing strategies for reforming it.

Quick Links

Find Authors