Jack Delano/LIbrary of Congress

"Waiting their turn at the welfare office in the courthouse in Franklin. Heard County, Georgia." 1941.

Profiles: Phyllis Lenhard

Saturday, December 24th, 2011 

Born 1919
Dearborn, Mich.

Back in the '30s, they had more or less an adjustment in a system. Here, one doesn’t know from the other what they’re doing.  I mean, there’s no answers. We had answers, and they took good care of people back in the '30s. If you were hungry, you went over and you got stamps. They gave out stamps. Here and now, you have to look out for other people to donate and it's charity. And people who have worked all their lives, it’s embarrassing for them that they have to accept charity.

Many times you’d find people out on the street, and they were begging for food. They were sitting there, and many of them were even veterans from the other war. We had what they called welfare so they could get food stamps and go up there and get whatever they had to buy at the stores. Today it’s charity, and the government is sitting back, and they’re putting clamps on everything that other people need for their families. And that’s not right.

He (Roosevelt) accomplished something when it came to Social Security. This is something that the people can use today for medicine, for their expenses at home and raising a family. And if it wasn’t for that, what would the United States government do for the people today?

Interview by Michael Lawson

What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele are revisiting America: What Went Wrong, their landmark 1991 newspaper series, in a new project with the Investigative Reporting Workshop. Over the next year, the project team will examine how four decades of public policy has shaped America's ongoing economic crisis.


Back Story

The authors talk about What Went Wrong

Donald Barlett and James Steele talk about the project, and why they decided to revisit a book they wrote two decades ago, in a series of video clips produced by the Workshop.

Nation's Story

Who pays the taxes?

Who pays the taxes?

We feature charts, maps, photos and other visualizations that reflect the state of the economy as part of our What Went Wrong project. This column chart shows the growing disparity between what individuals and corporations pay in taxes. In the 1950s, the difference was 22 percent. Recent figures show the difference is 62 percent.

Rags to rags: Economic mobility hard to come by

New Pew Center on States report confirms that moving up the American economic ladder is difficult, even though most people have more income than their parents.

Homelessness takes it toll on Florida's youngest

Florida, as a center of the housing boom, still struggles to recover from the Great Recession. Financial stresses and widespread foreclosures have placed families in precarious situations, resulting in a spike in child homelessness. Susannah Nesmith reports in the Broward Bulldog.

Older workers face challenges in Silicon Valley

An advanced degree and experience in the tech sector should be a ticket to a job in today's economy. But older workers in the heart of the new economy, Silicon Valley, are finding their resume is not the issue. Aaron Glantz reports in The Bay Citizen.

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Read an Excerpt

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

The Betrayal of the American Dream on Google Books

Check out the first chapter of Barlett and Steele's 2012 book here.