Forty Years of Welfare Policy Experimentation: No Acres, No Mule, No Politics, No Rights

14 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2011 Last revised: 24 May 2011

See all articles by Julie A. Nice

Julie A. Nice

University of San Francisco - School of Law

Date Written: 2009


This essay is drawn from a keynote address for a symposium on Ten Years After Welfare Reform: Making Work Pay. The keynote was delivered on the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was then on the cusp of launching his Poor People’s Campaign. Professor Nice argues that the momentum toward a meaningful anti-poverty movement was stymied by the untimely deaths in 1968 of both Dr. King and the leading anti-poverty scholar, Professor Jacobus tenBroek. Examining anti-poverty policy over the forty years since their deaths, Professor Nice criticizes the narrow focus of scholars on social policy, arguing they effectively have contributed to the concentration on ending welfare rather than ending poverty and otherwise have failed to focus attention on the problems of poverty and inequality. Linking this contemporary failure to its historic roots in the intersection of race and class, she argues poor people never received the start-up investments represented by the Reconstruction promise of forty acres and a mule, and that they continue to suffer from a lack of both political influence and rights. Professor Nice concludes that a changed social policy to actually alleviate poverty will require political will and that such will must be developed through the synergistic effects of mobilizing social movements and leveraging legal rights.

Keywords: Welfare Law, Poverty Law, Martin Luther King, Jacobus tenBroek, Reconstruction

Suggested Citation

Nice, Julie A., Forty Years of Welfare Policy Experimentation: No Acres, No Mule, No Politics, No Rights (2009). Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy, Vol. 4, 2009, Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2011-16, Available at SSRN:

Julie A. Nice (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

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