JULY 9, 1962
NEW YORK—Recently my attention was called to a social welfare problem of which most of us are probably unaware. It involves what may be described as our "floating" population—a large number of Americans who for one reason or another are on the move, trying to find a place to put down roots and to become established.
While the states have all kinds of regulations for giving aid and social services to their own residents, very little thought has been given to these people who can't make a go of it in one place and, in moving, lose the right to the help they would receive through government or private agencies in the state of origin. If they try to return, they find they have lost residence in that state and for a time cannot get either the services or the help they need.
This problem was given special attention by speakers at the recent National Conference on Social Welfare. To prove that this is nothing new, one of the speakers started with a quotation from Moses. More than 30 centuries ago that eminent leader of men reported that God had said unto him: "Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger as for one of your own country". But today, continued the speaker, with all our rapid means of transportation and communication we still have far to go to solve the problems of an uprooted family or an uprooted individual.
She cited the case of a 16-year-old boy in a Southern state who had been reared by his grandparents. When they died he was left without a home and without relatives. He went north as a migrant laborer, but when the picking season came to an end decided he wanted to get an education. He went to a large Northern city where he felt he might be able to work and at the same time learn to read and write. But he was unable to get work and the situation became hopeless. Nothing could be done for him except to give him the fare for his return to the Southern state in which he had grown up without education and with no skills. In giving him the money, they realized sadly that they were probably starting another individual on a life of delinquency.
Another equally sad example is given of a disabled man in a Northern state. He and his wife, with two small children, had been receiving aid to dependent children. Because of his physical condition it was recommended that the little family move to a Southern state. He was given help by his state of origin for 12 months in the hope that at the end of that time he would be able to get light work, which he was able to do. None was to be found, however, and they were finally given money enough to return to the state they came from. On arrival there, they found they had lost residence and could not obtain aid. Given five dollars for a tank of gas, with an order to move on, the family moved into a third state where they had previously lived. Here they were fortunate enough to have the Travellers Aid Society arrange for medical care and vocational rehabilitation. With additional financial assistance, the family eventually became self-supporting.
It is often said, of course, that people move in order to get on relief. Yet the evidence proves this to be untrue except in very rare cases. Most people who move do so in order to look for employment, because of health conditions, to be near relatives, or for some particular emotional problem of their own. California, Arizona and Florida, which have the highest residence requirements in the country, in order to keep people from moving in for the purpose of getting relief, seem to have more immigration than any other states. On the other hand, in 1957 New York State had no residence requirements, yet less than 2% of the cases receiving assistance had been in the state less than one year. This, also, despite the fact that New York standards for giving assistance were high and the states surrounding it were making lower payments.
There seems to be only one way to meet this situation and help uprooted people, and that is to coordinate all our services—statewide, local community and area-wide. We must plan cooperatively with all the agencies available, both public and private, in order to assure effective and economical aid to non-residents and unsettled newcomers on a statewide basis and to provide a national network of services for people who are on the move.