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date: 16 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

From the New Deal era through the Great Society the U.S. welfare state underwent a period of expansion, but from the mid-1970s onward the ideas underpinning welfare-state growth came under attack from conservative commentators and political actors. In addition, the assumption that the resources were available to finance further expansion of the state’s social welfare role was challenged. This essay looks at what happened to foster this mood of doubt about the benefits of the welfare state. In addition it asks whether there was significant retrenchment of welfare-state programs. The essay argues that the story is a mixed one. Some welfare programs were scaled back but others survived and were even incrementally expanded. If, however, one function of the welfare state is to reduce the inequality that arises from market outcomes, then U.S. social policy performed that task with diminishing effectiveness in the decades after 1970.

Keywords: Reagan, Clinton, Bush, austerity, retrenchment

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