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Poverty, History of

The history of poverty in the United States parallels the history of any other human problem, such as racism or sexism. To consider poverty and its history in any nation, one must take into account attitudes and stereotypes about the poor, social welfare policies, and the roles of local, state, and federal governments in the issuance of relief. Perhaps most important, however, poverty histories must include the voices of the impoverished. For historians, this can mean researching in unconventional places, such as oral histories and relief office records. In the United States, the history of poverty can be traced to the earliest settlers.

Until 1933, when New Deal legislation changed the nature of welfare funding in the United States, social welfare, or “poor relief,” was mainly ...

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