Journal of Social Policy

US Social Welfare Policy: The Reagan Record and Legacy

a1 Department of Sociology, Social and Demographic Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, Machmer Hall, Box 34830, Amherst, MA, USA. 01003-7525


This paper reviews the Reagan administration's attack on the US welfare system during the 1980s. The paper considers the origins, provisions and impact of Reagan's three major pieces of retrenchment legislation: the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, the Social Security Amendments of 1983, and the Family Support Act of 1988. It is argued that Reagan's record in retrenching welfare was limited in budgetary terms, but was successful in making welfare programmes more restrictive. Reagan's welfare legacy is assessed in terms of his attempts at restructuring social provision and shifting the welfare debate to the right. The paper concludes by asserting that Reagan's critique of, and attack on, social provision was accepted by his presidential successors, George Bush and Bill Clinton.