Is America returning to a tradition of moral reform that had been rejected one hundred years ago? Consider the titles of the two major pieces of antipoverty legislation, each of which represents a generation's approach to this perennial social problem. The War on Poverty was ushered in by the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, while the recent welfare reform legislation was the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. The contrast between the laws, Joel Schwartz suggests, "points to the growing recognition that economic opportunity can be seized by the poor only to the extent that they accept personal responsibility." This shift, however, is not merely a turning away from the policies of the Great Society. It marks a return to the antipoverty strategy of the moral reformers of the nineteenth century who attempted "to make the poor less poor by making them more virtuous."
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