What's Wrong with the Poor?

Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty

By Mical Raz

264 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2730-4
    Published: February 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0888-4
    Published: November 2013
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4583-2
    Published: November 2013

Studies in Social Medicine

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Awards & distinctions

A 2015 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

In the 1960s, policymakers and mental health experts joined forces to participate in President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty. In her insightful interdisciplinary history, physician and historian Mical Raz examines the interplay between psychiatric theory and social policy throughout that decade, ending with President Richard Nixon's 1971 veto of a bill that would have provided universal day care. She shows that this cooperation between mental health professionals and policymakers was based on an understanding of what poor men, women, and children lacked. This perception was rooted in psychiatric theories of deprivation focused on two overlapping sections of American society: the poor had less, and African Americans, disproportionately represented among America’s poor, were seen as having practically nothing.

Raz analyzes the political and cultural context that led child mental health experts, educators, and policymakers to embrace this deprivation-based theory and its translation into liberal social policy. Deprivation theory, she shows, continues to haunt social policy today, profoundly shaping how both health professionals and educators view children from low-income and culturally and linguistically diverse homes.

About the Author

Mical Raz, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and historian of medicine. She is author of The Lobotomy Letters: The Making of American Psychosurgery.
For more information about Mical Raz, visit the Author Page.


"A fascinating and disturbing study of how psychology created an unflattering and close to insulting picture of the poor. . . . A superb, groundbreaking study. Excellent. Essential. All levels/libraries."--Choice

“Should be read by any scholar of American post-war history seeking better to understand ‘the risks of using seemingly neutral theories of child development and mental health in attempts to address social problems’ (p. 175).”--Social History of Medicine

"An important contribution . . . [and] a valuable resource."--Journal of Southern History

"One of this book's many strengths is its recognition that the war on poverty was really a war on what well-meaning liberals imagined poverty had done to the lives of the poor."--Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“Address[es] the role of mental health experts in shaping public policy in twentieth-century America.”--Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

"This book is an impressive feat and is filled with revealing connections. Raz provides a model for exactly the kind of multidisciplinary look we need to understand these critical issues."--Barbara Beatty, Wellesley College