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Human Services and Politics: Welfare to Work, and Policy Reform

Independence is a strong psychological seed in every human being’s psyche. We strive for independence from our parents as teenagers, and as adults, work to keep our independence intact. We build families, and our lives around employment and our wants and desires. It all takes money, of course, and so the ability to work weaves a strong thread in achieving and maintaining independence. How people maintain independence though, is very different, and relies heavily on circumstances and opportunity. There are some who struggle to stay out of poverty by working more than one job, or working to make opportunities for their children’s future.

There are also those, however, who decide that using the system is the best opportunity they have, as is the notable case in Jason DePerle’s book following three cases of welfare in Clinton’s America.

In 1996, on the eve of President Clinton’s welfare reforms, the way the welfare system worked was going to receive a much needed reworking: “During the Carter years, the government helped an average of 290,000 new families each year find housing. Since then, the average has fallen to 74,000 a year–meaning it would take 72 years to work through the backlog of 5. 3 million families with what the government calls “worst case” housing needs. No, make it 73 years, since under the next year’s budget the number of new families assisted essentially falls to zero, for the first time in modem history. ”(DePerle, 1996) Through a system change instigated by the Republican-led Congress, the power of welfare was returning to state governments, which included doing away with the AFDC, the system poignantly featured as the reason Angela Jobe and her family moved from Chicago to Milwaukee.

There was mixed emotions prior to the implementation of the Senate bill, where many felt drastic changes in welfare could lead to unfavorable results, as was suggested in an editorial, “in the end, the politicians who take the credit for doing away with welfare this year can also take the blame for the suffering that is sure to follow” (The Progressive, 1996). Nevertheless, as was showcased in DePerle’s book “American Dream”, the results proved to be far from disastrous.

Having read the book, I believe the text was hard to follow especially trying to figure out the family tree, I had to keep referring to the back of the book to figure out who was who. I thought it was challenging because the story of the family was not in chronological order. However I felt the timeline in the back of the book came in very handy. The dynamics of the families were poignant in as far as their personal struggles. I found it unbelievable that someone would go as far as move across states to a better welfare system, rather than explore employment options within their own home state.

It was incredible for me to believe that families would move to Milwaukee because of their better welfare system. From a political point-of-view, the Clinton administration struck a successful chord with ending the abuse of welfare systems, as well as changing the structure and face of welfare. Something that had not been done since the 1960s. DePerle, himself comments: “Ten thousand businesses have joined an organization that promotes the hiring of welfare recipients. Church groups across the country are giving job applicants interview outfits.

Chambers of Commerce are posting billboards that challenge the “myths” about people on welfare. For the first time in a long while, anti-poverty work seems to have a tailwind” (Washington Monthly, 1999). The Bill had changed the perceptions of poverty in particular, and was making ground-breaking steps in creating opportunities for the unemployed and impoverished. It spoke to businesses in a language they understood – money and incentives – creating a win-win situation just on the cusp of an economic boom. It was perhaps surprising, initially, to read that such incredible incentives were given to businesses.

With the Bill in place, there appeared to be a positive approach across the country. Results were reported nationwide, with companies and corporations at the cornerstone of providing opportunities to work through training programs. One such program was the hotel Marriott International’s welfare-to-work program which saw “nearly 600 people through its welfare-to-work program in the past few years, has proved that welfare recipients can work, and its ambitious project may well become a model for corporate America” (Trenches, 1998).

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