American dream : three women, ten kids, and a nation's drive to end welfare

by Jason DeParle

Hardcover, 2004




New York : Viking, 2004.


"Bill Clinton vowed to "end welfare as we know it" in his first run for president in 1992. Four years later, Congress translated a catchy slogan into a law that sent 9 million women and children streaming from the rolls. Did it work? In his book on the historic upheaval in the American social contract, New York Times reporter and two-time Pulitzer finalist Jason DeParle follows three women in one extended family to a set of surprising answers." "Cutting between Washington and the streets of Milwaukee, DeParle follows the story from the White House to the local crack house." "DeParle travels between the politicians who wrote the bill and the poor people who lived it. He spent seven years tracking an unforgettable set of characters caught in its wake. Angela Jobe, Jewell Reed, and Opal Caples - cousins, yet closer than sisters - arrive in Milwaukee just as the city becomes the epicenter of the antiwelfare crusade. Their responses vex the expectations of the political left and right. After a dozen years on welfare, Angie thrives as a worker, with a car, two jobs, and a 401(k) - yet her children struggle in school, and her boyfriend tries to shoot her. Jewell, glamorous even in sweatpants, isn't focused on work; what she cares about are her kids and the imprisoned man she wants to marry. Opal combines an antic wit with an appetite for cocaine, while the for-profit welfare agency handling her case squanders the taxpayers' millions. Tracing the story back six generations to a common ancestor - a Mississippi slave - DeParle adds intellectuals, caseworkers, reformers, and rogues to a tale of adversity variously overcome, compounded, or merely endured."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member janey47
I very much appreciate the perspective that DeParle brings to this project. He is able to write about the overarching political environment that brought about the pledge to "end welfare as we know it" and to recount the experiences of the three women in the subtitle to show that there are no simple answers and there are no simple categories to dump people into. DeParle eloquently evokes the flexibility and resourcefulness of the women of whom he writes and of their victories, even as their limitations, often seemingly self-imposed, work against them.

Long after I first read this book and started recommending it to people, I saw DeParle mentioned in one of Sr. Helen Prejean's books as a sympathetic journalist. His is a fine pedigree, looking into issues that most people want to sweep under the rug.
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LibraryThing member dpf
One of the best pieces of non-fiction I've ever read.


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