What’s in a Name

A lot apparently. Common sense values, health care, and clean energy have morphing definitions depending on whose lips they leave. Welfare was meant to describe the well-being of the citizenry. But then it became associated with the assistance paid to the poor. The word was further tainted by derogatory titles like Welfare Queen.

Welfare was meant to evaluate how well a group would end up after a selection of choices. Ceratinly the idea behind the war on poverty in the 1960s had its roots in increasing welfare, particularly to the most disadvantaged. Monthly subsidies were an answer. Yet.

In the United States, “aid to children,” or “relief” had become Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and then the comfortingly opaque acronym, AFDC. In the 1960s AFDC was usually called “welfare,” but to many of the recipients, the very name felt like a bad joke. “Welfare means health, comfort, and happiness,” as Johnnie Tillmon, a mother who received welfare payments, put it in 1969, “and we on welfare don’t have none of that.” Policy makers on both sides of the Atlantic felt the hypocrisy of the name shifts, and sometimes insisted, purely for honesty’s sake, on applying the old labels.

Great Society- A New History, by Amity Shlaes

Financial measures are a necessary component to getting people back on their feet. But to be well means to have good health, to exercise, to pursue a vocation, to eat well, to sleep in peace, and to be able to provide the same to those who depend on you. I think what is called wrap-around services is now in place to address provisions to some of these other forms of well-being.

But the word welfare will forever carry negative connotations.