A Reformed System?

Perhaps only Jeremiah’s call to the Jewish captives to "work for the welfare of the city" in which they were being held could have been more controversial than Bill Clinton’s 1996 drive to "end welfare as we know it." Without making provisions to increase jobs, child care, or even a safety net, Clinton’s welfare "reform" bill offered states block grants to aid the poor in whatever way they saw fit, encouraging them to cut their welfare budgets by sending the poor to work - whether there were jobs or not.

Clinton’s bill led to the resignation of several members of his administration, was widely criticized by advocates for the poor, and caused many social justice activists (including me) to nearly give up on the Democrats. A group of religious leaders, including several from Sojourners, were arrested in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol protesting the bill.

In American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare, Jason DeParle puts faces on those caught up in one of the most controversial issues of the past 20 years. DeParle, a reporter for The New York Times, weaves together the stories of three single African-American mothers in Milwaukee on welfare with the story of the political process behind welfare reform. For seven years, DeParle followed Angie Jobe, Jewell Reed, and Opal Caples, all members of the same extended family, as their welfare benefits are cut off and they struggle with varying degrees of success to find solid jobs to support themselves and their children.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2005
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