Welfare Transformed: Universalizing Family Policies That Work

Welfare Transformed: Universalizing Family Policies That Work

Welfare Transformed: Universalizing Family Policies That Work

Welfare Transformed: Universalizing Family Policies That Work

Synopsis

In the ten years after President Clinton made good on his promise to "end welfare as we know it" by signing the reform act of 1996, the number of families on welfare dropped by over three million. This hotly contested legislation has fueled countless hyperbolic arguments from both sides of the political spectrum rather than a clearheaded examination of the actual results of the reform. Robert Cherry steps into the fray with a story that differs sharply from both conservative and liberal critiques. He portrays the women who left welfare as success stories rather than victims, and stresses the many positive lessons of the policy initiatives that accompanied the reform without downplaying the problems it created. The result is an eye-opening look at the ground-level repercussions of welfare policy changes, developments that have been overshadowed by partisan politics for too long. Anchored by solid economic research and policy background, Welfare Transformed comes alive with revealing interviews of key members of the Clinton Administration, directors and staff at welfare-to-work programs and community colleges, and - most importantly - welfare leavers themselves. Cherry carefully explains the factors (racial, social, economic, generational) that spurred and shaped the reform, and moves past partisan rhetoric in his review of its effects. Instead, he pays attention to concrete data and real people's experiences that combine to provide a full account of the legislation'saftermath. Armed with this new view, Cherry offers a range of strong suggestions for transforming successful welfare policies into universal family policies, from strengthening federal economic supports for working families to improving our community colleges. A refreshing take on a lightning-rod subject, this book is certain to foment heated discussions among all who read it.

Excerpt

This book is a radical departure from most critiques of welfare reform. It acknowledges welfare reform’s inadequacies but argues that focusing on those aspects that have been shown to work is the best way to address the flaws that leave some families behind. Welfare-to-work policies have moved millions of mothers into paid work and their families further away from abject poverty. If we are serious about wanting to strengthen our families and communities, we cannot afford to ignore these lessons.

Thirty years ago, I could never envision adopting such a policy perspective. Living in Boston in the 1970s, my wife was employed by Model Cities, a government-funded health clinic in a poor neighborhood. We did some political organizing with clients that involved visiting families in public housing projects. Walking into those projects was depressing. Garbage was strewn through the hallways, broken windows leered at visitors, and it seemed impossible that people lived there. Once inside the apartments, however, we were transformed into another world: clean and orderly. In their oases, these mothers did their best to maintain the dignity that they were not afforded elsewhere.

At the time of these visits, two of the most influential books were William Ryan, Blaming the Victim (1972) and Frances Piven and Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare (1971). Ryan’s book showed how the “culture-ofpoverty” thesis that black poverty was primarily the result of a dysfunctional culture was simply a way to rationalize systemic oppression. Piven and Cloward demonstrated how welfare was a necessary . . .

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