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Who Cares? Q&A with Professor Howard on his New Book

The Public Policy Program at William & Mary has many great professors who study a wide range of fields. Recently, Public Policy faculty member Professor Chris Howard, a leading national expert on domestic social policy, released a new book on poverty policy in the United States entitled Who Cares? The Social Safety Net in America.

Professor Howard is the Harriman Professor of Government and Public Policy. Currently this springProfessor Howard semester Howard is teaching Government Research Methods, a class he created himself for William & Mary students which has now grown into a requirement for all government majors. He also is excited to be teaching Rethinking the American Welfare State, a class he recently redesigned after first teaching it last spring.     

Who Cares The Social Safety Net in AmericaProfessor Howard has immense knowledge not only on the United States as a welfare state but also as a unique social safety net designed to address poverty, which is the focus of Who Cares?. Howard explains that in the U.S. the responsibility to take care of people in poverty isn’t only held by the government but also by family members, charities, and organizations. These combined support factors create what he calls in his book “The Social Safety Net.”

When asked in an interview how he defines “The Social Safety Net,” Howard responded by saying, “the social aspect means more than government. The net is how the United States takes care of people experiencing hardships.” He continues that “The Social Safety Net” is an umbrella term that encompasses the public safety net of government programs, the voluntary safety net of charities and donations, and the family safety net. Howard states that “the social aspect of the net strengthens the net as a whole,” as the United States government recognizes that groups like charities and church organizations don’t have government resources but knows the “government has gaps” and any extra help is needed.

Howard’s book contains two distinct parts. The first part focuses on “how the United States talks about poverty” and the second on “what we do about it.” He explains that “we talk about poverty relatively little because political parties are heavily focused on working-class people, but we end up doing a lot more than what we say” through the use of political parties, labor unions, family obligations, and political party responses. But no matter how large this net of support is, Howard makes it clear that “people have fallen through it,” especially African Americans, Hispanics, and those that don’t have easy access to paid work.

Howard was in the middle of writing this book when the pandemic hit, which gave him a natural ending point for his writing. He decided to talk about the net up until 2019, so he could examine “it under fairly normal conditions to show that even in normalcy, millions are falling through it.” He later added a postscript to the book to say “what we are seeing in the pandemic that is different and similar than before.” For example, during the pandemic, the use of stimulus checks became prevalent which gave money to everybody in equal amounts. He states “this is unusual in this country because we were distributing based on equality” rather than need.

Professor Howard wrote this book with students and fellow researchers in mind, as the book itself came out of his teaching. He wanted to provide a broad map “that would give someone an understanding of how both social and governmental factors interact,” allowing one to see which parts of “society are equipped to help solve world problems and which ones aren’t.” He states his ultimate goal was to simply “give a sense of who is being helped and who isn’t,” as that is fundamental to the next steps “The Social Safety Net” takes.

Interested in learning more? Have a look here for additional information on the book.