Social Welfare Under Reagan

March 9, 1984

Report Outline
Welfare Spending Cuts
Growth of Poverty Aid
Questions of Fairness
Special Focus

Welfare Spending Cuts

Controversy Over Benefit Reductions

At Issue in this presidential election year is the three-year-old question of whether President Reagan's social welfare programs are fair to the nation's poor. Reagan's critics claim that his economic recovery program has been built on the backs of the poor, that federal programs to help low-income individuals and families have been cut to finance an unnecessarily large defense program and to compensate for massive income tax cuts of benefit primarily to the wealthy. Reagan and his supporters counter that the welfare program reductions were needed to curb the excessive federal spending that was fueling doubledigit inflation and creating a dependency on the federal government.

The growth of social welfare programs has been a central issue of American domestic policy since the mid-1960s. Conservatives condemned the steady expansion of these programs, claiming they had placed an unacceptable burden on the American taxpayer while doing little to alleviate the long-term problems of the poor. Dissatisfaction with welfare programs helped propel Reagan into the presidency in 1980, and he moved quickly to slow the rate of growth in domestic spending.

From the beginning, Reagan has said that his budget-cutting efforts have been aimed only at those low-income individuals who had been able to obtain substantial incomes by combining their earnings from work with federal cash assistance and “inkind” benefits. The poorest individuals—the “truly needy” would be spared from the budget ax. “Those who through no fault of their own must rely on the rest of us, the poverty-stricken, the disabled, the elderly, all those with true need, can rest assured that the social safety net of programs they depend on are exempt from any cuts,” said Reagan in February 1981.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Aug. 2010  Social Welfare in Europe
Aug. 03, 2001  Welfare Reform
Dec. 06, 1996  Welfare, Work and the States
Sep. 16, 1994  Welfare Experiments
Apr. 10, 1992  Welfare Reform
Oct. 10, 1986  Working on Welfare
Mar. 09, 1984  Social Welfare Under Reagan
Apr. 17, 1981  European Welfare States Under Attack
Dec. 09, 1977  Welfare in America and Europe
Nov. 21, 1975  Future of Welfare
Dec. 20, 1967  Welfare Reform
Jun. 08, 1966  Guaranteed Income Plan
Oct. 04, 1961  Public Welfare Policy
Mar. 09, 1954  Worker Welfare Funds
Jul. 20, 1950  Welfare State
May 07, 1947  Union Welfare Funds
Jan. 10, 1940  Expansion of the Food-Stamp Plan
Welfare and Welfare Reform