Michael Katz, 75, Who Challenged View of Poverty, Dies

Historians in the News
tags: Michael Katz, obituary



Michael B. Katz, an influential historian and social theorist who challenged the prevailing view in the 1980s and ’90s that poverty stemmed from the bad habits of the poor, marshaling the case that its deeper roots lay in the actions of the powerful, died on Aug. 23 in Philadelphia. He was 75.

His wife, Edda Katz, said the cause was cancer.

Professor Katz, who taught history at the University of Pennsylvania for the last 36 years and was a founder of its urban studies program, wrote more than a dozen books chronicling public welfare policies in the United States from the start of the republic through the 20th century.

The limited success of those efforts, he said, argued for adoption of a universal minimum-standard-of-living policy, sometimes known as theguaranteed minimum income. (Its supporters, on both sides of the political spectrum, included President Richard M. Nixon.)

Professor Katz’s best-known books, “In the Shadow of the Poorhouse: A Social History of Welfare in America” (1986) and “The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the War on Welfare” (1990), examined American policy as it evolved from the poorhouses of the 18th century to the humanitarian reforms of the Progressive era; from the heavy-handed 1920s prescriptions for curing “behavioral dysfunction” in the poor (inspired by Freud) to the broad-based social safety-net measures of the New Deal.




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