American Dream by Jason DeParle. Bill Clinton vowed to “end welfare as we know it” in Four years later, Congress translated a catchy slogan into a law . In this masterful work, New York Times reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Jason DeParle cuts between the mean streets of Milwaukee and the corridors. In this definitive work, two-time Pulitzer finalist Jason DeParle cuts between the mean streets of Milwaukee and the corridors of Washington to produce.
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Viking, pp. The other day I walked into the office to see a distraught woman sobbing disconsolately jaosn the floor. She had unknowingly parked in the parking lot of the Burger King next door.
She moaned, “I begged him not to tow me. I told him that I am homeless and don’t have any money to feed my children, but he didn’t listen. He still towed me. The driver of the tow truck lurks inside the Burger King waiting for people and tows someone almost every day. Next, I talked with a young woman whose welfare assistance for herself and her three-year-old had been cut off because she missed one day at her job search program.
The reason she missed it is because her child was sick and she had to stay home to care for him. She had just located a temporary job in medical technology but her childcare had been cut back to half a day and she couldn’t start the job until the worker approved her for full day childcare. I recently spent a summer in Finland, and a social insurance official there told me that they did not believe families should be in shelters.
They made sure families had permanent housing. They also had guaranteed universal childcare and universal health care. Those scenes in a Boston welfare office would not occur in Finland. Not many people know of the daily tragedies that occur at the welfare office, and until the news gets out and the voting public becomes concerned enough to elect officials who will change the system, the tragedies will continue.
Jason DeParle has been on the poverty beat of the New York Times for many years, writing knowledgeably about poverty and welfare.
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Frances Fox Piven, a long-time observer of his work, describes him as “an exceptionally careful and sincere journalist. When I called The Boston Globe and asked to speak to a reporter on their poverty beat, I was told that they don’t have one and they are owned by jawon Times. American Dream has been reviewed by major newspapers across the country. De Parle has been interviewed by NPR and other stations, and he is on the lecture circuit talking about welfare and poverty. The widespread publicity given the book may contribute to the current Congressional debate about reauthorization of the kason welfare bill, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act PRWOAwhich DeParle analyzed as it played out in Milwaukee.
Few jadon are talking about poverty.
As Bob Herbert wrote in the Times”Poverty is not even close to becoming part of our national conversation. Swift boats, yes, sex scenes on Monday Night Footballmost definitely. The struggle of millions of Americans to feed themselves? Let’s not go there. In his campaign for the presidency, Kerry told the middle class, “I’ve got your back. I’ve got your back because I know what you’re going through. When I first picked up his book and saw a young black mother with two children on the cover, my heart sank and I thought, “Oh no.
An analysis of media coverage of welfare by FAIR Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting for three months from December 1, and February 24, revealed that most of the recipients who were interviewed were black, even though the majority of recipients at that time were white. The only white woman pictured was described as clinically depressed, as if poverty only affects white people who are in some way handicapped. DeParle said that he has been asked why he centered his book around African-American women, and he said it was because in Milwaukee, where he did the study, 70 percent of welfare recipients were black.
By that reckoning, there should have been at least one white recipient. He could have found more white recipients in rural Wisconsin, but most journalistic studies of welfare focus on the inner city.
Journalists look for compelling stories that will entertain, and black people in the inner city hold endless fascination for the American public. They are assumed to be part of the underclass, and when the media does stories on the underclass, they are always black. Yet, in defense of DeParle’s choice, welfare policy has been powerfully shaped by slavery and Southern legislators who want to keep black people submissive and exploited.
American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare by Jason DeParle
DeParle deftly weaves the genealogy of his protagonists — Angie, Jewell, and Opal — with the history of slavery and its aftermath and the history of welfare policy. Later on those widows were folded into the other part of Social Security called the Old Age, Survivors, and Dependents Insurance what people commonly call Social Security. In the Census Bureau showed that there were 3, children, along with their parents who received Social Security benefits because a parent was widowed or retired.
It is one of the best- kept secrets of the nation. The families just get their checks until the children grow up, with no caseworkers to pry into their private lives. What a contrast to AFDC now TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Familieswhich has given cynical officials a scapegoat to advance their political careers and has subjected millions of women and their children to demeaning treatment, inadequate grants, and policing of their behavior.
DeParle wonders whether the stories of three welfare families can be representative of nine million people. The answer is obvious — they can’t. They aren’t representative of the white population, or the rural population, or the millions of legal immigrants who suffered the most from the welfare bill because they lost food stamps as well as TANF benefits, or the welfare recipients who struggle against odds to finish their college education, or the small minority of recipients who are in two- parent families or single dads caring for their children, or the parents convicted of a felony who are denied benefits for their lifetime.
The focus on TANF also misses the disabled children whose benefits were cut in the welfare bill, the disabled immigrants who lost their SSI Supplemental Security Incomeand what Peter Adelman described as the most troubling cut of the PRWOAlimiting food stamps to three months out of every three years for unemployed adults under age 50 who are not raising children.
While his deep involvement with these three women reveals much about welfare reform, and DeParle sometimes illuminates the larger picture by citing studies, the larger context is sometimes lost and one is left to wonder just how representative these women are.
Nevertheless, DeParle has written compassionately about these women and their struggles with the welfare system and with poverty.
He clearly cares deeply about them.
He visited their homes, accompanied them to dentist appointments, feparle drove them to prisons to visit their lovers and fathers of their children. His description of their experiences gives us a fairly accurate picture of what is happening with black single mothers without a high school diploma who must rely on dearle paid work to support their families. DeParle writes vividly about welfare reform, which he calls “the Middle East of domestic policy. On the far right was Newt Gingrich, calling for americann balanced budget that could only be achieved by ending all social supports — not only welfare, but food stamps, Medicaid, and school drfam programs.
He talked of putting poor children in orphanages. He received ideological support from Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, who had the backing of the Christian Coalition and other conservative grassroots groups. Rector called for ending all cash, food, and housing aid to any women under age twenty-six who had a child outside of marriage. Former cabinet secretaries Jack Kemp and William Americzn urged other conservatives to “discredit the moderate pretensions of the president.
Gingrich eeparle powerful allies in the Republican governors, who controlled thirty state houses after the elections and who pushed for the freedom to run their own welfare programs. Some, like Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin and John Engler in Michigan, had run experimental welfare programs that received national publicity and had reduced the rolls. Clinton had approved waivers from federal welfare requirements for forty states, setting the stage for states to run welfare programs.
Republican governors campaigned for block grants, and Gingrich saw this as “the starting point for the block-grant revolution, with a hundred other programs to follow, from health care to housing. In a letter to the federal government, Republican governors Thompson, Engler, and Weld wrote, americqn are willing to accept a reduction in funding if we are given the freedom to run these programs with few, if any, strings attached. Some Democratic governors feared a “race to the bottom,” with states competing to keep services and tax burdens low.
Peter Edelman described this as ” bumper-sticker politics — oversimplification to win votes. When it became evident that the supports would be very expensive, Clinton lost interest in Elwood’s plan.
American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare
draem As support for cold-turkey time limits grew among Congressmen, Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institutions wrote Ellwood that “a feral mood is loose on the Hill,” and advised him to resign.
Ellwood hung on until it became clear that the Republicans had no intention of going with his plan, then resigned as Clinton’s welfare advisor in and returned to Harvard, “where he spent the next few years in disillusioned exile, wondering where Clinton’s core convictions lay. When the Republicans gained control of Congress inthey latched amerucan to Clinton’s time limit rhetoric and proposed an absolute time limit of five years, and an end to entitlement to assistance.
They proposed to america a fixed amount of money in block grants to the americah, without a federal guarantee of assistance to families.
Clinton won the argument about orphanages and school lunches, but remained silent uason the rest of the bill and left Jaskn Congressmen with no support for americcan alternative to the Republican plan. He vetoed two bills submitted by the Republicans, one of which contained cuts to Medicaid. Although Medicaid provides health care to the poor, it also pays for nursing care for the middle class, and hospitals, doctors, and pharmacists benefit from it as well as middle class families.
Clinton was not willing to go against those powerful lobbies. The Republican strategy was to expose Clinton as a hypocrite veparle wouldn’t deliver on welfare reform dfparle his rhetoric. When Sream refused to sign a bill that would block grant Medicaid, the Republicans separated welfare and Medicaid and sent the bill containing five-year time limits and block eream for AFDC. Vice President Al Gore urged him to sign it.
Most of his cabinet urged him to veto it. Just before he signed dfeam, Donna Shalala, the secretary of Health and Human Services, rushed an Urban Institute study to him that predicted the bill would move 2. It did not sway Clinton. He had seen polls that made him believe that if he did not sign amerocan bill he would lose the election to Bob Dole, and he signed the bill anyway.
Most of the Democrats voted for the bill, including John Kerry Kerry even bragged about his vote during his presidential campaign. DeParle chastises them for their timidity and says that even Ted Kennedy approved of workfare. Yet he does not mention that Kennedy voted against the bill. He also does not mention Paul Wellstone and Patsy Mink and their fierce opposition to the bill.
With the assistance of her daughter Gwendolyn Mink, Patsy Mink crafted a humane welfare bill and submitted it to Congress, where it was ignored. Both Wellstone and Mink have since died — Wellstone in a plane crash, and Mink from pneumonia, and welfare activists still mourn their deaths.
Although he chronicles Clinton’s crass opportunism, DeParle still calls him a liberal. Peter Edelman, who resigned his post as assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services after Clinton signed the bill, said, “Now no one could ever say again with any credibility that this President is an old liberal.
As a result, Clinton got away with a lot, from the passage of so-called welfare reform to his foreign policy — he was the first to raise the specter of weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to bomb Iraq. Lest anyone have any illusions that Hillary disagreed with her husband, DeParle quotes amerian as saying, “We have to do what we have to do.
I hope our friends understand. When she spoke of friends, she probably had in mind Peter Edelman and his wife Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose slogan “No Child Left Behind” was kidnapped by the Bush Administration as the title for their education act. The Children’s Defense Fund fought valiantly against the act but they couldn’t call out troops to fight as the Christian Right did.
The pro-reform forces got most of the media attention, but there was protest. In their effort to prevent passage of the bill, the leadership of the National Organization for Women NOW went on a hunger strike and their legal defense fund continued to organize against welfare reform, but NOW was not able to summon large numbers of their membership to the fight. Many feminists were so committed to getting into the work force that they saw nothing wrong with forcing welfare mothers to do the same.
Public service unions opposed the bill because they saw it, wmerican, as a potential threat to their jobs.
But they did not mount a large or sustained fight against it.