Preface Although the poverty rate was high and often growing throughout much of the his- tory of the American colonies and the United States, since the beginning of the twentieth century, the country has made considerable progress in combating pov- erty. Yet, since the early 1970s, the poverty rate in the United States has remained the same or even increased, instead of continuing to decrease. During colonial times and the early part of the United States, few people were interested in preventing poverty they saw poverty as a permanent part of society and simply wanted to deal with the poor in the easiest and most efficient way. Poor people were considered to be the responsibility of the local governments, who cared for them by apprenticing poor children to employers by auctioning off poor adults to the lowest-bidding family and by forcing the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled to live in poorhouses or workhouses. At that time, state governments pro- vided money for the poor only during times of war or disaster, and the federal gov- ernment rarely took an interest in the poor (see the entry on Poor Laws for more on this topic). By the mid-1800s, however, the needs of the poor began to overwhelm the east- ern cities, and they turned to the states for help. Some states wrote reports on how to prevent poverty (see the entry on the Quincy Report for more information on this). The states’ solution—constructing more poorhouses—did not work, but never- theless this method of dealing with the poor lasted until the early twentieth century. Since the early twentieth century and especially since the New Deal of the 1930s, the federal government has come up with some effective programs to allevi- ate and prevent poverty. Gradually over the years the state and federal governments joined towns and cities in providing money and help to the unemployed, elderly, disabled, and children in the form of Social Security, unemployment insurance, minimum-wage legislation, free and reduced-price lunches in schools, food stamps, and cash aid to families with children. The spread of public education, public xi
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