Kinder, but Less Just
“I have found the world kinder than I expected, but less just,” Samuel Johnson is said to have remarked. The same might be said of the popular response to poverty and hunger in America. It, too, is kinder but less just, not merely less just than I hoped or expected it would be, but less just than it was two decades ago. Poor people have lost — have been deprived of — rights to food, shelter, and income that were theirs twenty years ago. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) and the end of welfare as we know it are only the culmination of a long, dreary process that has undermined the nation’s fragile safety net. The erosion of the value of the minimum wage, a reduction in the purchasing power of public assistance, the decline in job security, and wave after wave of cutbacks in food assistance, housing subsidies, and welfare benefits have all reduced the overall share of income going to the bottom layers of our society, and curtailed the legally enforceable claims that people in need may make upon the collectivity. Measurable inequality is more pronounced now that it has been at any point since World War II.
Janet Poppendieck, from Sweet Charity?