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Welfare is a set of government programs paid for by the taxpayers that provide social or financial support programs specific sectors of the population deemed to be vulnerable, either financially, socially or physically. However, welfare programs can also be extended to much wider segments of the population, such as universal healthcare systems, vaccination programs, public roads, schools, and libraries. Some elements are opposed by libertarians and conservatives.

As an economic term, welfare refers to general well-being, economic prosperity, or living standards. Welfare is derived from utility.


The first welfare program in the United States was established in 1921 by the passage of the Sheppard–Towner Act,[1] which saw its repeal in 1929.

Prior to the proliferation of government-controlled welfare programs, private charitable agencies reached all corners of the country. One historian notes that "So rapidly did private agencies multiply that before long America's larger cities had what to many people was an embarrassing number of them."[2][3]

In 1878, the city of Philadelphia alone had nearly 800 such agencies in one form or another.[2]

The modern welfare system was established by President Franklin Roosevelt, and extended by Lyndon B. Johnson as part of the Great Society. Opponents say that the top 50% of Americans pay over 96% of the taxes.[4] Supporters may cite the supposed effectiveness of Roosevelt's policies to help end the Great Depression.[5] Welfare also comes in the forms of food stamps, free school lunches, and Medicaid.

Welfare payouts

The following table represents the welfare monies handed to the average recipient, broken down into yearly and hourly "wage" equivalent comparable to the tax-paying worker as of 2013 by the Cato Institute.[6] In many cases - aided by the fact that welfare recipients do not pay taxes on what they receive - the monies they get exceed the wages earned by a tax-payer at an entry-level job.

Rank State Yearly equivalent Hourly equivalent Rank State Yearly equivalent Hourly equivalent
1 Hawaii $60,590 $29.13 26 Ohio $26,200 $12.60
2 Washington D.C. $50,820 $24.43 27 North Carolina $25,760 $12.38
3 Massachusetts $50,540 $24.30 28 West Virginia $24,900 $11.97
4 Connecticut $44,370 $21.33 29 Alabama $23,310 $11.21
5 New York $43,700 $21.01 30 Indiana $22,900 $11.01
6 New Jersey $43,450 $20.89 31 Missouri $22,800 $10.96
7 Rhode Island $43,330 $20.89 32 Oklahoma $22,480 $10.81
8 Vermont $42,350 $20.36 33 Louisiana $22,250 $10.70
9 New Hampshire $39,750 $19.11 34 South Carolina $21,910 $10.53
10 Maryland $38,160 $18.35 35 Arizona $15,320 $7.37
11 California $37,160 $17.87 36 Wisconsin $14,890 $7.16
12 Oregon $34,300 $16.49 37 Virginia $14,870 $7.15
13 Wyoming $32,620 $15.68 38 Colorado $14,750 $7.09
14 Nevada $29,820 $14.34 39 Nebraska $14,420 $6.93
15 Minnesota $29,350 $14.34 40 Iowa $14,200 $6.83
16 Delaware $29,220 $14.05 41 Georgia $14,060 $6.76
17 Washington $28,840 $13.87 42 Utah $13,950 $6.71
18 North Dakota $28,830 $13.86 43 Maine $13,920 $6.69
19 Pennsylvania $28,670 $13.78 44 Illinois $13,580 $6.53
20 New Mexico $27,900 $13.41 45 Kentucky $13,350 $6.42
21 Montana $26,930 $12.95 46 Florida $12,600 $6.06
22 South Dakota $26,610 $12.79 47 Texas $12,550 $6.03
23 Kansas $26,490 $12.74 48 Arkansas $12,230 $5.88
24 Michigan $26,430 $12.71 49 Tennessee $12,120 $5.83
25 Alaska $26,400 $12.69 50 Mississippi $11,830 $5.69
. . . . 51 Idaho $11,150 $5.36

Corporate welfare

This is a pejorative term used to describe business loans, subsidies, bailouts, and tax breaks, or a government providing a closed bid contract to a favored company. The term is especially for these actions when directed toward large corporations, and especially in favored sectors such as finance, energy, defense and motor industries.

Welfare reform in the United States

In the United States, Conservative legislators passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which ended the AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and radically changed the US welfare system. Tighter restrictions were placed on the eligibility and manner of receiving public aid in order to discourage families (mainly single, divorced, or widowed mothers with children)[7] from remaining idle (outside of the work force). For instance, recipients are required to find employment within two years of receiving aid, and a single family could receive aid for a total of five years. If a mother gives birth to a child while on public assistance, states are allowed to establish "family caps" in order to deny further benefits the family may have been eligible for before the reform.[8] Legal immigrants have also been made ineligible for any Social Security Income (SSI).[9][10]

People who take advantage of the welfare system by collecting benefits for an extended period of time without trying to improve their situation (i.e. by getting a job) are known colloquially as welfare queens. The legislative changes mentioned above help this problem, but there is still much room for improvement.

Welfare and welfare reform in Egypt

The Egyptian welfare system is significantly different. Rather than specific programs aimed at helping vulnerable individuals or families, the government prefers to maintain price controls and subsidies, as poverty is regarded as the most serious social issue, and is widespread. Staple goods such as bread, cooking oil and fuel are all blanket subsidised, that is supplied at the subsidised price to the entire population, with no form of means testing employed. Although this is more expensive than a more targeted means-tested approach, it is administratively simpler, a major factor in a country where the civil service often has limited resources, and limited computerization.

The government also implements non-financial programs, including family planning (which has succeeded in halving population growth, but still faces many challenges), subsidized basic medical care at the village level, vaccination programs, and agricultural assistance programs. The government also provides more sophisticated medical services through a network of public hospitals, though care is not free at point of access and facilities are generally less sophisticated than in private hospitals, though geographic coverage is much more extensive.

Attempts to reform the system, by reducing subsidies overall has been proposed many times by the government, and limited cuts have taken place, but there exists huge public resistance to deeper reform, especially amongst the poor, who comprise a huge percentage of the population. At present, there are no plans to drastically alter the provision of medical services, and most reform efforts are aimed at reform of the blanket subsidies on basic goods, and agricultural programs.

Finding welfare

Welfare in the U.S. is administered at the county level. Search terms include welfare, social services, public assistance, and food stamps plus the name of the county. Like before the internet, phone books and yellow pages can be searched as well.

See also