The Cloward–Piven strategy is a political strategy outlined in 1966 by American sociologists and political activists Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven that called for overloading the U.S. public welfare system in order to precipitate a crisis that would lead to a replacement of the welfare system with a national system of “a guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty”.
Cloward and Piven were both professors at the Columbia University School of Social Work. The strategy was formulated in a May 1966 article in the liberal magazine The Nation titled “The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty”.
The two stated that many Americans who were eligible for welfare were not receiving benefits, and that a welfare enrollment drive would strain local budgets, precipitating a crisis at the state and local levels that would be a wake-up call for the federal government, particularly the Democratic Party.
There would also be side consequences of this strategy, according to Cloward and Piven. These would include: easing the plight of the poor in the short-term (through their participation in the welfare system); shoring up support for the national Democratic Party-then splintered by pluralistic interests (through its cultivation of poor and minority constituencies by implementing a national “solution” to poverty); and relieving local governments of the financially and politically onerous burdens of public welfare (through a national “solution” to poverty).
Cloward and Piven’s article is focused on forcing the Democratic Party, which in 1966 controlled the presidency and both houses of the United States Congress, to take federal action to help the poor. They stated that full enrollment of those eligible for welfare “would produce bureaucratic disruption in welfare agencies and fiscal disruption in local and state governments” that would: “…deepen existing divisions among elements in the big-city Democratic coalition: the remaining white middle class, the working-class ethnic groups and the growing minority poor. To avoid a further weakening of that historic coalition, a national Democratic administration would be constrained to advance a federal solution to poverty that would override local welfare failures, local class and racial conflicts and local revenue dilemmas.