Pre-Order About the Book When Jason DeParle moved into the Manila slums with Tita Comodas and her family three decades ago, he never imagined his reporting on them would span three generations and turn into the defining chronicle of a new age—the age of global migration. Beating the odds, she struggles through nursing school and works her way across the Middle East until a Texas hospital fulfills her dreams with a job offer in the States. Migration is changing the world—reordering politics, economics, and cultures across the globe. With nearly 45 million immigrants in the United States, few issues are as polarizing. But if the politics of immigration is broken, immigration itself—tens of millions of people gathered from every corner of the globe—remains an underappreciated American success.

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By Jason DeParle. Can there be another word in our language that has shifted further, semantically, from benign origins? Shorthand for the innocuously-monikered and unobjectionable s federal program Aid For Mothers With Dependent Children, "welfare" became, by the s, a bitter repository of conflicting views on community, society and human nature. The president went so far as to admit that "the current system is broken.

DeParle begins by introducing the reader to three women, Angela Jobe, Jewell Reed, and Opal Caples, whom he will follow for much of a decade. On the surface, these women fulfill most of stereotypes about welfare recipients: African-American single mothers who had spent their adult lives on welfare, and whose off-again, on-again boyfriends included drug-dealers and two men implicated in the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl.

The surface is where the assumptions end. Behind these disorganized lives, DeParle finds a monumental, emblematic, yet deeply human, story, rooted in s Mississippi.

The women he follows share an ancestor, a slave named Frank Caples. The Caples family eventually became sharecropping tenants on the Mississippi delta plantation owned by Senator James Eastland, legendary for his virulent opposition to black advancement. DeParle connects the social dislocation and disorder that followed the family north family breakdown, enduring poverty, lack of educational achievement-- to the exploitative and degrading plantation experience.

After introducing Angie, Jewell, Opal, and the blighted history of the Caples clan, DeParle takes what many writers would consider to be an enormous rhetorical risk: he sets aside these compelling personal stories, for a brief, but deft, political and economic history of American welfare policy. The author traces a maze of political intrigue, horse trading, and demogoguery, from Franklin Roosevelt to Daniel Moynihan, Ronald Reagan, and Wisconsin governor and current secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson.

This interlude also casts an ever-lengthening shadow over the story of the Caples women, as we gradually come to understand how they and the millions of others like them are pawns in larger political scenarios of which they are only dimly, if at all, aware.

When he returns to the story of the family, DeParle continues his close observation of Angie, Jewell, and Opal, relating the rough textures and unending difficulties of their daily lives.

They are subject to a Kafkaesque series of bureaucratic rules and expectations, often imposed and raggedly administered by privatized social service agencies whose managers and employees seem themselves in need of the counselling and remediation they purport to dispense.

From a terrible depression, Angie struggled back to work, while raising four kids Given the limited goals of welfare reform-moving people off the rolls and into work-- Angie and Jewell are success stories.

Their success, however, is in itself disheartening. Angie has worked since as an aide at nursing homes, performing backbreaking labor which does not pay much more than minimum wage, while, ironically, she herself has no health coverage.

Her children, at home and unsupervised, are falling into familiar patterns of unwed pregancy and truancy. As DeParle relates, "having thrown herself into work, she lost faith that hard work pays. By pushing millions, albeit often brutally, from the rolls, welfare reform served to bring into stark relief the true contours of the issues and pathologies surrounding many of these families.

However misshapen the drive to end welfare-- with its lack of health and child care, true educational opportunity, and provisions for a living wage-DeParle finds in its effects the seeds of future possibility: "whatever hardships the bill left untouched, whatever corners of inner-city life it may never touch, the decade renewed a forgotten lesson: that progress is possible on problems that seemed impervious to change. They made their way against the odds into wearying, underpaid jobs.

Through his long and scrupulous attention, he challenges the nation to contemplate the dreams, or lack thereof, within the American Dream. Anthony Walton teaches English at Bowdoin College.

He is the author of "Mississippi: An American Journey.


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Shelves: history , where-it-all-went-wrong , conservative , african-american It took me two weeks to read this book, which is a bit unusual. Patterson so I was familiar with the history of these programs. The story follows the lives of three cousins, all female, all unmarried, all with children ten kids all together; I lost track of how many different dads who move from Chicago to Milwaukee, WI because the welfare benefits were more generous. The author traces their family back to a common ancestor, a slave in Mississippi. The next generations were sharecroppers who lived in circumstances not unlike slavery, until the parents of the young women migrate north, and have their own children, including the young women whose lives the author documents--Opal, Jewell, and Angie. To say that the relationships between the young moms and their various family members, children, boyfriends, and the fathers of their kids are convoluted is an understatement.


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