The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America

The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America

The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America

The New Politics of Poverty: The Nonworking Poor in America

Synopsis

Thirty years ago, the great national debate was how to help ordinary, workaday Americans achieve the good things in life. Today, we are preoccupied with- and increasingly divided over- how to cope with the problems of poor and dependent Americans, most of whom cannot or will not work at the jobs available. Mead provides overwhelming and disturbing evidence that passive poverty- the failure of most of the poor to work at all- reflects defeatism more than lack of opportunity. In this controversial book, Mead proposes concrete steps to overcome the inertia of the nonworking poor trapped in the welfare system. If the poor return to work, he suggests, American politics would focus once again on the problems of the working Americans.

Excerpt

This book is about the momentous political change that has resulted from entrenched poverty in the United States. Since the mid1960s, the competing claims of economic interests and classes have ceased to be the leading domestic issues in national politics. Instead, the preoccupation is with the decay of the inner city. Politicians used to divide over whether government should be larger or smaller. They still do, but the question of whether to enforce social values is more contentious. Dependency at the bottom of society, not economic equality, is the issue of the day.

I believe this shift has occurred not because the country has become more conservative, but because traditional approaches to social reform have been exhausted. Government has failed to overcome poverty simply by expanding opportunity, the traditional American solution to social problems. This is because most of the poor do not work, so they cannot take advantage of most of the benefits that government and the economy offer. Nor has it proven possible, on the whole, to trace the work problem to racial bias or other barriers that government could remove. in response, social policy has become pa-

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