“American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to end Welfare” by Jason DeParle
“American Dream” quite literally fell off the bookcase at Open Books in it’s demand to be read. So I bought it, and I read it in 24 hours because I simply could not put it down.
Is there a more hot-button issue than welfare? Okay, abortion will probably light people up just as well, but welfare is one of those topics that everyone has an opinion on — and they’re always those opinions that cannot be reconsidered and are set in stone.
“American Dream” should be a required read before forming any of those opinions.
Did you know that when the program we now refer to as “Welfare” began, it was aimed at white stay at home mothers who found themselves widowed? That’s a far cry from where the system is now — viewed by many as a dependent class. (And, in the words of some current Presidential candidates, people who view themselves as victims. Oh, politics.) Under the leadership of Bill Clinton in the 90s, there was a massive drive to try and get people receiving these benefits back to work and off the rolls. It’s an incredibly intricate story of the U.S. government at all levels trying something and succeeding (Oregon), and failing (Mississippi), and doing better, and doing worse.
Things are not cut and dry. Or black and white.
DeParle does something genius with this book. While he’s relating the history of the Clinton Administration’s efforts to get welfare recipients back to work — and the substantial bureaucratic screw-ups to follow — he also puts the story on the backs of three real-life women/mothers who are on-again-off-again receivers of welfare benefits; hardworking Angie, holding out for a man in jail Jewell, and Opal with the drug problem. If you can’t find some sympathy for at least one of the three of them, I’d question your heart.
“American Dream…” is a really powerful piece of non-fiction writing about an issue that’s still being hotly debated in American politics. If you like this sort of read, this one is a must-read.