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The recent history of the American welfare state has been viewed with dismay by those on the left because of the steady contraction of benefits under both Republican and Democratic administrations. In contrast, Jennifer L. Erkulwater describes the remarkable success of advocacy for the disabled at a time when the federal government was seemingly impervious to liberal policy innovations.

Since the War on Poverty the American public's support for social-welfare policies has gradually eroded as conservative politicians have gained power and demographic changes and uncertain economic growth have enhanced pressures for fiscal retrenchment. Yet, the past thirty years have also seen a dramatic expansion of disability benefits. This book is the first to examine how entitlements for the disabled have fared in the wake of the disability-rights movement. This movement initially fought to end the institutionalization of the severely disabled and moved on to claim that antidiscrimination laws would allow the disabled to work and become less dependent on welfare. It also had a profound impact on entitlements.

Erkulwater demonstrates that the Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs enacted between 1972 and 2000 succeeded because policy elites switched from welfare-based approaches to the civil-rights rhetoric used by the disability-rights movement. The work of liberal advocates who sought to end the segregation of the disabled in custodial institutions and integrate them into their home communities contributed to the growth of programs providing financial assistance to disabled citizens and to the recent controversies surrounding the future direction of disability policy.



Publication Date



Cornell University Press




American welfare state, disability rights movement, Supplemental Security income programs


School of Arts and Sciences


Political Science


Political Science


Read the introduction to the book by clicking the Download button above.

[Introduction to] Disability Rights and the American Social Safety Net