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Myth of the Welfare Queen: A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist's Portrait of Women on the Line Paperback – February 25, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Welfare moms are "the most hated women in America," says Cheri Honkala, a dynamic activist from Philadelphia who is profiled in the engrossing Myth of the Welfare Queen. As the American mood toward welfare turned mean in the mid-1990s and politicians worked to radically change who got benefits and for how long, Honkala used her considerable talents in guerrilla theater to fight bureaucrats on behalf of a rising tide of dispossessed women and children. She keeps the TV news spotlight on the homeless with a host of inspired acts: a long-term tent city for displaced families, the takeover of a church, a grungy encampment next to the Liberty Bell. Nonetheless, folks dispute how helpful such confrontations are. Odessa Williams, a resourceful, resilient woman who supports four grandchildren and then doubles that number when new troubles strike, is the other sympathetic subject in this tough, humanizing portrait of women on welfare by Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper editor David Zucchino. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In North Philadelphia, Odessa Williams, a great-grandmother, picks through trash to furnish her home and clothe her grandchildren. She also goes fishing to provide extra food and charges people for rides to and from the welfare office and supermarket to supplement her meager income. Cheri Honkala and others set up tent cities, take over an abandoned church, and occupy vacant HUD buildings to seek shelter and protest the lack of affordable housing. Against the backdrop of the welfare reform act, which revoked the federal guarantee of welfare to low-income families with dependent children, Zucchino, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with the Philadelphia Inquirer, documents the lives of these women and others over a six-month period. The result, a harrowing description of daily subsistence living with very little chance of change, is a powerful expose of the welfare myth. Highly recommended for all libraries.
-?Kate Kelly, Massachusetts General Hosp., Boston
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (February 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684840065
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684840062
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #433,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
David Zucchino has written an unsentimental yet powerful narrative describing life in the trenches of the welfare system. His recountal reminds us that we cannot disregard the urgency of poverty,as it affects all of us, regardless of our economic situation or our opinion of welfare recepients. Zucchino's attempt to deconstruct the myth of the welfare queen exposes many unsavory details about life below the poverty line ; trash-picking, sex for money, children left in charge of other children. This book requires that the reader step into the shoes of a desperately poor person, leaving behind moral judgments and uninformed opinions. The reader must also remember that Zucchino's intent is not to essentialize the lives of welfare recepients by focusing his record on a few women, but to highlight the insanity of the welfare system and its effects on disenfranchised individuals; the interminable red tape, the constant harrasment by bureaucrats, and the poor distribution of funds and materials. After reading this book, we should reexamine the ways in which we show our moral obligation to those who need help.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jessica on May 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is not the book to read if you are trying to make up your mind about welfare issues or reinforce the ideas that you already have. It is an amazingly unjudgemental look at the lives of those on welfare in the inner city that will at times make you raving mad, whether at the people who refuse to work with the system for the sake of their children or at a system that fails those who give everything they have to take care of children they only want the best for, and sometimes have no direct responsibility for (grandchildren, children they have taken in). It puts real situations and struggles in the place of the abstract idea of public assistance. Within the pages you will meet kindhearted, incredibly nonbitter people, like Odessa, who you will admire and, at the same time, long to reach out to. Those who you would pity for their horrible circumstances if only you could not tell from reading about their lives that they are far too good of people to need or want pity. You will also meet people who you cannot feel sympathy for. People you will want to just slap for their irresponsibility and for not putting their children's needs before their own whims. This book shows just how complex the issue of welfare is, and that a set of laws or policies is not going help some people who are just stuck between a rock and a hard place. It will show you that there is no typical welfare recipients, even among those living in one neighborhood. Though some of the people are unbelievably good , and some horrible individuals, it will show the many greys in between. It is a portrait of those suffering for the nation's view of the "Welfare Queen.Read more ›
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
"Myth of the Welfare Queen" is a sympathetic portrayal of impoverished American families who depend on Welfare to support themselves. As a character in the book notes, welfare recipients are among the most despised segment of our nation's population. While it may be easy to denigrate those who eke out a livlihood supplemented by welfare as "Cheats" and "Lazy", this book probes beyond these prejudicial stereotypes and humanizes these otherwise faceless poor who have not benefited from so called "trickle-down" economics. In addition to offering sympathetic portraits of urban indigence, the book addresses important social issues that cannot be overlooked in judging the worth of our "welfare state." If our government is willing to subsidize Mike Eisner with $300,000 for firework shows and McDonald's with $466,000 to advertise chicken McNuggets in Turkey, can we in good conscience begrudge taxpayer money to feed and clothe American children just because we disapprove of their parents'life choices? Zucchino's book challenges some basic assumptions of those among us who live comfortably. "Myth" forces readers to confront unpleasant issues. Not all of the characters portrayed in this book deserve sympathy. Some of them even reinforce our worst stereotypes about Welfare. Zucchino forfeits his objectivity by repeatedly projecting himself into the narrative. Parents may become extremely frustrated with the poor decisions made by irresponsible adults who are charged with caring for the children in this story. Except for two leading figures in the book, most of the remaining cast is flat and one dimensional.Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Christine on May 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
The beauty of this book is the simplicity with which it is written. There are not technical terms to maneuver around. It takes a very candid look at a world many of us will never experience. It shows the very human characteristics of single mothers on welfare. The book never gets boring because it reads like a story. This is a non-fiction piece with all the compelling attributes of a fictional novel. This is not just a light rainy-day read either. It forces you to look into the lives of these women. Zucchino describes Odessa and Cheri's horrible necessicities like dumpster diving and prostitution so flippantly, it makes you want to scream, "But these women shouldn't be living like this!"
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