A Patchwork Safety Net: A Survey of Cliometric Studies of Income Maintenance Programs in the United States in the First Half of the Twentieth Century

Price V. Fishback, Samuel Allen, Jonathan Fox, Brendan Livingston

NBER Working Paper No. 15696
Issued in January 2010
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

Social welfare programs in the United States are designed to serve as safety nets for people in hard times, in contrast with the universal approach found in many other developed western nations. In a survey of Cliometric studies of social welfare programs in the U.S., we examine the variation in the safety net in the U.S. across states in the 20th century, the determinants of the variation, and its impact on socioeconomic outcomes. The U.S. has always displayed substantial variation in the extent of the safety net because the features of most public social welfare programs are and were determined by local and state governments, even after the federal government became involved. Differences across states persist strongly for typically a decade, although the persistence weakens with time, and there are some periods when federal intervention led to a re-ordering. The rankings of state benefits differs from program to program, and economic and political factors have different weights in determining benefit levels in panel data estimation of their effects. Variation in benefits across programs during the early 1900s had significant impact on labor markets, economic activity, family formation, death rates, and crime.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15696

Published: Price Fishback & Samuel Allen & Jonathan Fox & Brendan Livingston, 2010. "A Patchwork Safety Net: A Survey Of Cliometric Studies Of Income Maintenance Programs In The United States In The First Half Of The Twentieth Century," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(5), pages 895-940, December. citation courtesy of

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