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More than a decade after presidential candidate Bill Clinton floated the idea of ending "welfare as we know it," the changes to the system have become so accepted and entrenched that it is difficult to remember the heated controversy surrounding the issue of reform. Jason DeParle, a social policy reporter for The New York Times, forcefully brings the subject to life in American Dream, a moving and informed examination of the challenges, complexities, successes, and failures involved in fixing our nation's ailing welfare system. Tracing the lives of three women and their children as legislative changes are pushed through Washington and the state of Wisconsin, DeParle puts an extraordinarily human face on a subject that is too often prone to ideological oversimplification. As DeParle adeptly shows, their story "of adversity variously overcome, compounded, or merely endured ... embodies the story of welfare writ large."
The three compelling women at the heart of DeParle's narrative are vastly different temperamentally, yet they share the abstract qualities of strength and endurance, as well as extended family ties. DeParle paints their portraits with respect and sensitivity, and he provides a marvelous family history that reveals how "the story of welfare" is painfully "tangled in the story of race." Our glimpse at these difficult lives and the forces that profoundly shape them inspire an equal measure of hope and disappointment, and a large measure of outrage. As these remarkably resilient women struggle to raise their families, corruption is exposed in the very offices charged with implementing the newly adopted reforms. DeParle accepts that removing nine million women and children from the welfare rolls represents enormous progress. However, he simultaneously recognizes that we are dismally failing to confront a consequence of welfare reform: a new class of working poor. --Silvana Tropea [via]