COOL CLASSES: “Race, Poverty, and the U.S. Welfare State”

A political science course that introduces students to policies promoting the economic and social wellbeing of U.S. citizens.

Class Name: “Race, Poverty, and the U.S. Welfare State”

Taught By: Assistant Professor of Political Science Zachary Oberfield


Here’s what Oberfield had to say about his class:

This class introduces students to the U.S. welfare state—the policies promoting the economic and social wellbeing of U.S. citizens. Although the word “welfare” usually conjures up visions of the very poor, one of the purposes of the class is to show students that many welfare state policies benefit middle-class families. In addition, the course encourages students to ask questions about how race figures into welfare politics. In particular, we read books that look at how media coverage in the latter part of the 20th century put a “black face” on means-tested welfare programs and that ask about how New Deal welfare programs drew eligibility lines based on race. In addition, we consider critical perspectives on the welfare state which question the purpose of these programs (and, in fact, the definition in the first sentence of this paragraph) and instead see welfare as a set of programs that elites use to pacify restlessness among those with little income or wealth. Finally, the course puts the U.S. welfare state in comparative perspective by asking how these policies compare—from the standpoints of poverty reduction and political sustainability—with welfare states in other advanced industrial nations. In essence, I hope that students walk away from the class with a better appreciation of what governments in the U.S. do about poverty and inequality and how the politics of these programs are constituted.


See what other courses the Political Science Department is offering this semester.

 Cool Classes is a recurring series on the Haverblog that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford College experience.



Photo: (cc) Kris Gonzalez/U.S. Army