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.
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