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Hands to Work: The Stories of Three Families Racing the Welfare Clock Hardcover – December 24, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0688173883 ISBN-10: 0688173888 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The welfare reform law of 1996 is considered one of the most successful policy achievements in recent memory, with huge reductions in the number of people receiving public aid. In Hands to Work, LynNell Hancock insists that we look beyond the numbers: "The new welfare world is an emerging, untested social experiment--one that has the potential to define what kind of nation we want to be, what kind of government we think is most fair," she writes. "But in the end it is simply a human saga." She describes the lives of three women as they grapple with this new welfare world. They share little in common besides residence in the Bronx: one is an ambitious Russian refugee who wants to become a doctor, another is a Puerto Rican heroin addict, and the last is an African American single mother. Hancock describes their "nuanced and messy" lives in some detail, and their experiences "can be viewed in many ways to justify one political view of welfare or another." Hancock herself views them from a liberal perspective, believing that pumping more money into welfare programs would improve the lot. Readers can make up their own minds, though the ones predisposed to agreeing with Hancock probably will like her book best. --John Miller

From Publishers Weekly

When President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in 1996, the bill set in motion a complete overhaul of the federal welfare system, and states soon followed suit. Hancock, a journalism professor at Columbia University, gives a human face to welfare reform as she follows three women navigating the new rules in New York City. Alina, a 19-year-old immigrant from the former Soviet Republic of Moldova, speaks little English but is determined to become a doctor. Brenda, a single mother of two, has supported herself with minimal government assistance through a series of low-paying jobs until a confluence of unfortunate events leave her jobless and homeless. Christine, who was kicked out of the apartment she shared with the father of her youngest son when he discovers she'd used heroin during the pregnancy, is a longtime dependent of the city's welfare programs. In between the stories of how these very different women deal with a tangled bureaucracy, Hancock details the philosophies and decisions of Mayor Giuliani and Welfare Commissioner Jason Turner, the man previously responsible for implementing Wisconsin's welfare reform system. The disconnect between those in charge and those who require their assistance becomes strikingly clear in Hancock's narrative. Without posing a list of specific solutions, Hancock's incisive look into the welfare quagmire provides insight into some of the major changes that must result if reforms are to be termed successful. (Jan.)Forecast: As tens of thousands of welfare recipients face the approaching five-year limit on receiving aid, welfare reform will be much in the news, and if Hancock can find a place as a talking head in the media conversation, she should generate good sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1st edition (December 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0688173888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688173883
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,473,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By farthing on December 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Finally an antidote to five years of endless conservative cheerleading about how wonderful welfare reform has worked to get the unworthy poor off the public dole. The Personal Responsibility Act of 1996, signed by then Pres. Clinton, launched a massive remaking of how federal, state and local governments aid the poor and define who is deserving of help. By one measure, welfare reform has been an unmitigated success: it pushed millions of poor people off the rolls and into a limbo of dubious workfare programs that offered street cleaning, for one example in New York City, as a job training. What has this all meant for poor people buffeted by welfare reform? The policy wonks and elected officials have paid scant attention to that critical question.
Luckily, journalist LynNell Hancock has trained her sights on the impact of welfare reform on real people--not the statistics we're usually offered. The women she shadows for several years in researching her book are as different as they could be: a Puerto Rican mother with a drug addiction; an African American mother fending off a ex-husband with a murder conviction; and a Russian immigrant with the drive to become a doctor. Hancock is our medium as we visit their lives and witness the absurdities, the indignities, and the incredible work invovled simply in being poor. All these women, Hancock included, deserve a merit badge for having confronted the welfare bureaucracy and survived its limitless hurdles, its rules crafted by people who live in mahongany paneled offices, not roach infested apartments.
With careful, sharp-eyed reporting and lively prose, Hancock lets these women's stories--with all their flaws and strengths--come shining through.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Journalist LynNell Hancock has produced the book that finally tells the story of the people affected by former President Bill Clinton's promise to "end welfare as we know it." Anyone interested in social policy should be extraordinarily grateful for Hancock's eloquent, evocative work. Following the lives of three women for several years and documenting their struggles to get off welfare, Hancock details the bureaucratic difficulties and the every day obstacles -- like the lack of affordable, decent child care -- that make this goal so elusive. With a journalist's careful eye and graceful prose, Hancock interweaves each woman's story with detailed analysis about the history of national and NYC welfare reform. In the tradition of Jonathon Kozol, her work is page-turning, deeply moving, and intellectually astute. As the clock is about to run out on the five-year limit set by Clinton's legislation, Hands to Work couldn't be more important -- or timely.
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By B. Soni on January 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Different approach to the welfare-system. Long term study of three women struggling in NYC, one immigrant, one born and raised in Brooklyn, and one drug addict. Not comparable to NICKLE AND DIMED, but sheds a lot of light on Presidential Hopeful, GIULIANI.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jane A. O'malley on September 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Although this book is well written and flows well, the content is at times laughable. The author paitnts a picture of these poor women as totally helpless. They go about missing appointments making excusses, as to why they can't make appointments or fill out papers. I thought it was halarious when the author wanted the reader to fell bad because one of the women didn't know how to eat pizza. She kept going on about how hard it is to get welfare and that the government shoudn't ask for ID or proof of need. Hey, while there at it why not just drop bags loads of money out of the sky?

I think the author did these women a disservice as she made them out to be so helpless and stupid.
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