Politics and Society 31 (2):283-323 (2003)

Authors
Margaret Somers
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Abstract
In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act that ended the entitlement of poor families to government assistance. The debate leading up to that transformation in welfare policy occurred in the shadow of Speenhamland—an episode in English Poor Law history. This article revisits the Speenhamland episode to unravel its tangled history. Drawing on four decades of recent scholarship, the authors show that Speenhamland policies could not have had the consequences that have been attributed to them. The article ends with an alternative narrative that seeks to explain how the Speenhamland story became so deeply entrenched.
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DOI 10.1177/0032329203252272
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