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Citizens and Paupers

Relief, Rights, and Race, from the Freedmen’s Bureau to Workfare

There was a time when America’s poor faced a stark choice between access to social welfare and full civil rights—a predicament that forced them to forfeit their citizenship in exchange for economic relief. Over time, however, our welfare system improved dramatically. But as Chad Alan Goldberg here demonstrates, its legacy of disenfranchisement persisted. Indeed, from Reconstruction onward, welfare policies have remained a flashpoint for recurring struggles over the boundaries of citizenship.

Citizens and Paupers explores this contentious history by analyzing and comparing three major programs: the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Works Progress Administration, and the present-day system of workfare that arose in the 1990s. Each of these overhauls of the welfare state created new groups of clients, new policies for aiding them, and new disputes over citizenship—conflicts that were entangled in racial politics and of urgent concern for social activists.

This combustible mix of racial tension and social reform continues to influence how we think about welfare, and Citizens and Paupers is an invaluable analysis of the roots of the debate.

336 pages | 6 halftones, 2 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2008

History: American History

Political Science: Race and Politics, Urban Politics

Sociology: Social History


“Chad Goldberg directs our attention to aspects of American political culture that help explain the cramped and punitive features of our social policies. He has written an informed and judicious book that is an important contribution to the literature on the American welfare state.”

Frances Fox Piven, CUNY Graduate Center

“In this outstanding book, Chad Goldberg incisively recasts the history of the American welfare state as a series of struggles over the terms of citizenship. Through a succession of carefully researched and artfully drawn historical case studies spanning a century and a half, Goldberg demonstrates that conflict over the citizenship status of welfare beneficiaries played a major role in the fundamental battles about race, class, and gender that shaped the nation.”

Robert C. Lieberman, Columbia University

“Goldberg’s impressive and original book offers a fresh perspective on U.S. social policy, demonstrating both historical depth and theoretical sophistication. Well written and highly readable, Citizens and Paupers will be of importance to sociologists, political scientists, and historians—or anyone interested in both the history of social policy and its current dilemmas.”

Edwin Amenta, New York University

“Chad Goldberg challenges the conventional argument that the modern welfare state represented a break with the historical tradition of means-tested benefits for the poor. Instead he demonstrates conclusively that the transition was not nearly as neat as often depicted and that the legacy of the poor laws remained embedded in social programs in subsequent decades. Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, this rich and complex book tackles fundamental debates regarding the meaning of democratic rights and the definition of citizenship.”

Jill Quadagno, Florida State University

Table of Contents


1  Paupers or Citizens? Struggles over the Status and Rights of Welfare State Claimants

Part One. Claiming Rights as Citizen-Soldiers: Struggles during Reconstruction

2  “The ‘pauper slavery’ of the poorhouse”: The Freedmen’s Bureau, 1865–1872

3  An Honorable Alternative to Poor Relief: Civil War Veterans’ Pensions, 1862–1890

Part Two. Claiming Rights as Citizen-Workers: Struggles during the New Deal

4  “They are just ‘reliefers’ and have no rights”: The Works Progress Administration, 1935–1942

5  “A different class from the ordinary relief case”: Old Age Insurance, 1935–1949

Part Three. From Citizen-Mothers to Citizen-Workers: Struggles after the New Deal

6  “Work with no rights and no pay equals slavery”: Workfare in New York City, 1993–2001

7  Respectable Aid for the Working Poor: The Earned Income Tax Credit, 1975–2001

8  Conclusion: Relief, Rights, and Race in the Development of the Welfare State



Comparative and Historical Sociology section, American Sociological Association: Barrington Moore Book Award
Honorable Mention

Society for the Study of Social Problems: Social Problems Theory Division Book Award

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