A significant body of work demonstrates the powerful role that race has played in the growth, scope, and character of the American welfare state. Yet this literature has focused almost exclusively on Black-White relations, ignoring the role that immigration has had on the formation and evolution of U.S. welfare policies. This dissertation examines the role of race and immigration in the development of the early American welfare state by comparing the extension of social citizenship to Mexicans, European immigrants and Blacks in the first half of the twentieth century.
Drawing on quantitative and qualitative data from government reports, archives, congressional debates, public opinion polls, the U.S. census, and the writings of contemporaries, this dissertation demonstrates that Blacks, Mexicans and European immigrants were each treated quite differently by the social welfare programs of the Progressive Era through the New Deal. European immigrants were largely included within the contours of social citizenship, Blacks were largely excluded, while Mexicans were offered limited inclusion at times, completely excluded at other times, and in some instances, expelled from the nation entirely.
Even during a period of widespread nativism, formal citizenship alone was largely unimportant in the extension of social citizenship. Rather, the regional segregation of Blacks, Mexicans and European immigrants, and the distinctive political contexts and systems of labor market relations in these areas, allowed starkly different relief systems to emerge across regions that were unequal in their size, scope, and function. In areas with more Blacks and Mexicans, local control of relief provision led to lower relief spending, less public investment, more discrimination in the allocation of relief, and for Mexicans, expulsion. In areas with more European immigrants, by contrast, local control allowed for greater relief spending, more public investment, protection from discrimination, and protection from expulsion.
Even when they lived outside those regions, however, Blacks and Mexicans still often encountered discrimination in access to social welfare assistance, while European immigrants were more often spared. I argue that social workers' ideas about each group's ability to assimilate racially and their propensity to become dependent on relief influenced access to assistance both within and across regions.