American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare

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9780143034377: American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare

In this definitive work, two-time Pulitzer finalist Jason DeParle cuts between the mean streets of Milwaukee and the corridors of Washington to produce a masterpiece of literary journalism. At the heart of the story are three cousins whose different lives follow similar trajectories. Leaving welfare, Angie puts her heart in her work. Jewell bets on an imprisoned man. Opal guards a tragic secret that threatens her kids and her life. DeParle traces  their family history back six generations to slavery and weaves poor people, politicians, reformers, and rogues into a spellbinding epic.

With a vivid sense of humanity, DeParle demonstrates that although we live in a country where anyone can make it, generation after generation some families don’t. To read American Dream is to understand why.

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Review:

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

From the Inside Flap:

"Jason DeParle's American Dream is a singular achievement. He interweaves a fascinating discussion of the politics of the welfare reform movement with a poignant portrayal of the lives of three women in one extended family who move on and off the welfare rolls in a struggle to survive. This is must reading for anyone concerned about the limitations of American social policy in addressing the problems of the urban poor."

William Julius Wilson, author of The Truly Disadvantaged
Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University

"Jason DeParle's American Dream vividly reveals how public policy affecting the poor is conceived, marketed, enacted, and implemented. He shows what ‘welfare reform’ does for those on high and what it does to those below who most directly feel the consequences of policies over which they have little influence. DeParle's book delivers its haunting news with a jolt. It informs us about the continuation of a dire national tragedy with a skillfulness that demands admiration."

Randall Kennedy
Professor, Harvard Law School

" In American Dream, Jason DeParle gives us a first-ever, penetrating look into the evolving consequences of the Clinton administration’s so–called "welfare reform" of 1996. DeParle’s exceptional reporting takes us back to the intergenerational source of so much black poverty -- stretching back six generations in the Caples family and outlining how three members of this extended African American family, Angie, Opal and Jewell, have coped with the crises of urban poverty and demands of the welfare bureaucracy. We learn intimate details of the Caples’ struggles on the periphery of American life from slavery and subsequent sharecropping serfdom in the Mississippi Delta to the slums of Milwaukee in the early 1990s. The Epilogue ends in 2004 with Angie and Jewell, no longer on welfare and working, holding tightly onto one thin thread by which they may pull themselves into the American dream, while their "sister" Opal seems to have fallen far out of reach. American Dream is an extraordinary effort by an extraordinary journalist."

Leon Dash
Author of When Children Want Children: The Urban Crisis in Adolescent Childbearing and Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America.

"No other journalist matches Jason DeParle’s skill in showing the effects of social policy on real people. This is a book that will break your heart and open your mind. In the vividness of its characters and the sweep of its ambition, American Dream is the Les Miserables of our day. It follows three women on their journey into and out of the welfare system, but it does much more. It carries us through four generations of their ancestors’ history, to explain the origins of their poverty. And it brings us five years of political high drama, to explain the law that comes crashing into their lives. This book teems with humor, surprise, paradox, and redemption."

Helen Prejean
Author of Dead Man Walking

"With equal measure of compassion and dispassion, Jason DeParle confronts us inescapably with the reality of poverty in America. You cannot read this book and remain indifferent to those who are being left behind. This is one of the great works on social policy of this generation."

Daniel Schorr
Senior News Analyst
National Public Radio

"In this beautifully written, heartfelt book, Jason DeParle has pulled off a stunning feat of journalistic storytelling. Equally at home in the West Wing as he is on the inner-city streets of Milwaukee, DeParle chronicles the story behind the most important piece of social policy to come along in decades, and its impact on real lives. With a novelist’s eye for irony and detail, he is unflinching in his reporting. What he finds will surprise you. It did me. American Dream is a must read for anyone concerned about the fate of our poor."

Alex Kotlowitz
Author of There Are No Children Here

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. In this definitive work, two-time Pulitzer finalist Jason DeParle cuts between the mean streets of Milwaukee and the corridors of Washington to produce a masterpiece of literary journalism. At the heart of the story are three cousins whose different lives follow similar trajectories. Leaving welfare, Angie puts her heart in her work. Jewell bets on an imprisoned man. Opal guards a tragic secret that threatens her kids and her life. DeParle traces their family history back six generations to slavery and weaves poor people, politicians, reformers, and rogues into a spellbinding epic.With a vivid sense of humanity, DeParle demonstrates that although we live in a country where anyone can make it, generation after generation some families don t. To read American Dream is to understand why. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143034377

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