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Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Daphne Drewello, frequent contributor to the Stumpers list, found this:
The Exclusion of Black Workers...

The Exclusion of Black Workers from the Social Security Act, 1935

By Mary POOLE

Dissertation Director:

Alice Kessler-Harris

The topic of my dissertation is how and why the 1935 Social Security Act, which laid the foundations of the American Welfare state, was constructed in such a way that it discriminated against African Americans. I try to understand how public policy which is ostensibly “colorblind” can contribute to the construction and reconstruction of racial hierarchy. A prime example of this phenomenon is the exclusion of most African American workers from the two programs created in the act for workers, Unemployment Insurance and Old Age Insurance (now Social Security.) At the time, this exclusion was considered to be racially benign, made necessary for the administration difficulties involved with collecting contributions from African American workers, most of whom were domestic workers and agricultural laborers. Yet, this policy of exclusion had deep and important consequences for African Americans as a group, as the majority of Black workers were denied the main safety net created during the depression years.

Historians of the Social Security Act have either repeated the claim that the exclusion of agricultural and domestic workers was administratively necessary, or, more recently, argued that it resulted from the racist intentions of southerners in Congress to deny economic security to the southern work force. My research into this issue, which was based on congressional and administrative archives, has lead to a different conclusion. I argue that Congress was not primarily responsible for the exclusion of Black workers from the Act, and that there was a great deal of evidence at the time that the exclusions were not administratively necessary. The Act did not create a sound, fair system of Social Welfare from which African Americans were excluded. Rather, through its very structure, the Act reproduced the economic hierarchy that maintained African American workers at the bottom rungs. The Act was not radicalized primarily through the deliberate ‘racist’ intent of particular interests. Instead, it was constructed to express the vision of northern liberal reformers who sought to save the economic system, and the American was of life, by elevating the position of white, male industrial workers. The Act was the product of a particular group of reformers from Wisconsin who had been brought to Washington to enact their visions of a humane social welfare system. Like many liberal white New Dealers, the Wisconsin group assumed the developmental inferiority of African Americans, particularly in regard to their abilities as workers. While they may have believed, ostensibly, in the assumption, which was then made invisible through the ‘colorblind’ New deal environment.

The different chapters of this dissertation describes [sic] the participation of different groups in the development of the Social Security Act, and then analyze the ways that the racial ideologies of these groups factors into their participation, and into the Act that resulted. In addition to southern Congressional leadership and the President’s staff—dominated by the Wisconsin group—I also look at the involvement of the three Black of [sic]interracial organization that lobbied on behalf of Black workers, and at the women of the Children’s Bureau who helped to draft the children’s titles of the Act.
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