The University of Wisconsin Press


Sociology / Social Work / Economics / Public Policy




A Poverty of Imagination
Bootstrap Capitalism, Sequel to Welfare Reform
David Stoesz


"A provocative, timely, and thoughtful book that attempts a reconciliation between collectivist responsibility and the reality of America's preference for free-market solutions."
—William M. Epstein, University of Las Vegas, author of Children Who Could Have Been and Welfare in America

Welfare reform was supposed to end welfare as we know it. And it has. The welfare poor have been largely transformed into the working poor but their poverty persists. This hard-hitting book takes a close look at where we've gone wrong-and where we might go next if we truly want to improve the lot of America's underclass.

Tracing the roots of recent reforms to the early days of the war on poverty, A Poverty of Imagination describes a social welfare system grown increasingly inept, corrupt, and susceptible to conservative redesign. Author David Stoesz details the new ideas, hatched in conservative think tanks of the eighties and elaborated through state experiments in welfare reform, that provided the outline for the 1996 Federal Welfare Act. Welfare-to-work and other behavioral objectives were the basis of these reforms; and an informed skepticism about such approaches is at the heart of Stoesz's book.
Investigating the causes of the ongoing failure of welfare assistance, Stoesz focuses on the economic barriers that impede movement out of poverty into the American mainstream. He explores such issues as the heterogeneity of welfare families, generational welfare, inadequate benefits, the negative effects of time limits on welfare recipients, a fringe banking industry that exploits low-income families, the limited capacity of low-wage markets, and the unavailability of credit.

Rather than try to reprogram the poor, Stoesz suggests, a more rational form of "bootstrap capitalism" would allow individuals and families to participate more fully in American society and achieve upward economic mobility and stability. This proposal, emphasizing wage supplements, asset building, and community capitalism, sets the stage for the next act in poverty policy in the United States. With its valuable insights on the American welfare system and its positive agenda for change, this book makes a significant intervention in our ongoing struggle to come to terms with widespread poverty in the wealthiest nation on earth.

David Stoesz is the Samuel Wurtzel Professor of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University. Formerly a welfare caseworker in Connecticut and a welfare department director in Maryland, he is the author of Small Change: Domestic Policy under the Clinton Presidency and coauthor of many books, including American Social Welfare Policy.

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December 2000
LC: 00-008036 HV
232 pp.   6 x 9  

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The cloth edition ISBN 978-0-299-16950-3 is out of print.

During this time of transition in welfare policy, a perceptive book such as this is an important contribution to academic and policy discussions. A Poverty of Imagination describes policy directions that are growing and are likely to continue to expand. This book is on the forefront of important trends."

Michael Sherraden, Washington University, author of Assets and the Poor

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