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From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States (Classic Reprint)

From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States (Classic Reprint)

ISBN: 9780814700549
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication Date: 1956-12
Number of pages: 364
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Excerpt from From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States

Although I have not fixed precise dates for the beginning or the end of the study, the period treated in most detail extends from the middle decades of the nineteenth century to the 1920's. It was in these years that the poverty problem as we noy'y understand it arose in the United States. It was in this period also that the attitude toward the problem that still prevails took shape. A broader definition of poverty than had previously obtained in the United States came into general use, and opinion regarding its cause and cure underwent significant alteration. By the close of the period insufficiency and insecurity had come to be regarded as even more disturbing issues than dependency; the industrial causes of misery were recognized as more important than the moral; and social rather than individual reform was being urged as the appropriate remedy for want. Partly because of these developments, partly because of fundamental changes in the nation's economic and social structure, the earlier philanthropic interest in the poor had evolved into concern with the condition of labor and the standard of living of the population as a whole.

The chief point made in the book is that the humanitarian reform movements that swept the United States in the first two decades of the twentieth century proceeded in large measure from the new view of poverty. I have tried to demonstrate the importance of organized philanthropy in the formulation of the new view, and have emphasized the leading roles played by charity agents and settlement residents in the fight for reform. The major contribution of social work to social reform, as I see it, was to promote a factual, undogmatic approach to economic issues.

In the course of the study I have been impressed by the parallel development of factualism in the social sciences and realism in the arts. So far as the book has a thesis it is that we owe our progress in humanitarian reform and our best achievements in literature and art to those individuals, regardless of field of endeavor, who have 'been eager to discover, reveal, and be guided by the truths of actual life.

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