Lenoir (1929-1967), was a bluesman from Mississippi. He was profiled in director Martin Scorcese’s documentary, The Blues. This song, from 1954, has the singer suggesting that President Dwight D. Eisenhower (in office 1953-61), was not doing enough to create jobs, forcing him on relief – social assistance.
While this 34th President was largely preoccupied with foreign affairs, perhaps Lenoir was thinking of Eisenhower’s efforts to cut back the New Deal programs. The New Deal refers to a collection of Great Depression-era social programs hinged on three “R”s – relief, recovery and reform.
Woody Guthrie, from 1940, describes what it’s like to be a poor worker trying to make their way in life, while meanwhile others get rich and richer. This classic song about income inequality has powerful lyrics that are resentful of capitalist icons such as bankers, and reverential toward workers, such as farmers and miners. Guthrie suggests poor people, with no home in this world, wait patiently for respite in the next, presumably heaven. While the song certainly has socialist overtones of animosity toward capitalists, it thus does not go as far as recommending a worker’s revolution that would push it into Marxist and communist territory. Still, perhaps you will find the song is too passive for essentially accepting the lot in life for those that have less.
This folk song is a gospel parody or response to pious finger pointing at the indigent. Like many folk songs, it’s not clear who actually composed this 1920s number. Given that one can find different versions with different verses, performed by different artists, it’s more like a song that is shared and adapted – the essence of a folk song.
The welfare state is a collection of government services and programs intending to assist people that need help getting by. While its roots can probably be traced back to the English Poor Laws of the 16th century, it wasn’t until the Great Depression that the ideological climate widely shifted toward some acceptance of public assistance for those out of work. Since this shift, the welfare state has become part of how most citizens understand to be the best way to support each other through sharing of their resources through taxation. The welfare state still bears all manner of criticisms, including that it costs too much, does not achieve its intended results and even creates “bums,” to the extent that people may become dependent on government “handouts.”