Social Solutions to Poverty:
America's Struggle to Build a Just Society
A book by Scott Myers-Lipton


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The National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) founders believed womenıs poverty resulted from a capitalist economy that provided too few opportunities for poor women in general and for black women in particular.
Thus, they declared welfare a right that all unemployed women deserved. To ensure this right, the NWRO protested at welfare offices when mothers were arbitrarily denied benefits, did not receive checks, did not receive their full amount, were wrongly terminated, or were treated in a demeaning manner.
They also protested when mothers did not receive grants of clothing and household furnishings that were available to them by law, but were denied them by welfare relief workers who did not inform the women about the benefits. These protests were significant since it was the first time that poor women, many of whom were previously disempowered and stigmatized, had collectively fought for increased welfare benefits.

In 1971, Johnnie Tillmon was hired as associate director of the NWRO, becoming the first black woman and welfare mother to be hired for a high-level staff position; in 1972, she became the director. Tillmon knew from firsthand experience that women preferred a living-wage job to welfare.
She had conducted a survey of poor women in her Watts housing project and found that out of the 600 women who participated in the study, all but one preferred work. However, poor women had little access to living-wage jobs.
In order to solve this dilemma, she called on the federal government to create a guaranteed income.

Although she and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., came to a similar conclusion, that a guaranteed income was the key to solving poverty, Tillmonıs focus was on poor women. By calling for dignity and liberation for all women, including people who were seen as the ³undeserving poor,² Tillmon incorporated poor and black women into the second wave of the feminist movement. As she stated, ³For a lot of middle-class women in this country, Womenıs Liberation is a matter of concern. For women on welfare itıs a matter of survival.²


Myers-Lipton, p. 218-219

(Excerpted from “Social Solutions to Poverty” İ Paradigm Publishers 2006)



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