In this definitive work, two-time Pulitzer finalist Jason DeParle cuts between the mean streets of Milwaukee and the corridors of Washington to produce a masterpiece of literary journalism. At the heart of the story are three cousins whose different lives follow similar trajectories. Leaving welfare, Angie puts her heart in her work. Jewell bets on an imprisoned man. Opal guards a tragic secret that threatens her kids and her life. DeParle traces their family history back six generations to slavery and weaves poor people, politicians, reformers, and rogues into a spellbinding epic.
With a vivid sense of humanity, DeParle demonstrates that although we live in a country where anyone can make it, generation after generation some families don’t. To read American Dream is to understand why.
Bill Clinton vowed to “end welfare as we know it” in 1992. Four years later, Congress translated a catchy slogan into a law that sent nine million women and children streaming from the rolls. Did it work? In his definitive book on this unprecedented upheaval in social policy, New York Times reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Jason DeParle follows three women in one extended family to a set of surprising answers.
Cutting between the corridors of Washington and the meanest streets of Milwaukee, DeParle tracks the story from the White House to the local crack house. After twelve years on welfare, Angie, a truculent mother of three, finds a job and a 401 (k)–and a boyfriend who tries to shoot her. Her cousin Jewell, glamorous even in sweatpants, adores the children she struggles to support. Opal combines an antic wit with an appetite for cocaine while the welfare agency that is supposed to help her squanders its millions.
Drawing on more than a decade of reporting, DeParle traces their story back six generations to a common ancestor–a Mississippi slave–and adds politicians, case workers, reformers, and rogues to an epic exploration of America’s struggle with poverty and dependency.
“Courageous and deeply disturbing…transcend[s] journalism…DeParle challenges the nation.”
New York Times – September 26, 2004
“A powerful, bracing antidote…masterful detail.”
Los Angeles Times – September 17, 2004
“DeParle brilliantly captures this gritty reality….It might even become an instant classic along the lines of Anthony Lukas’ ‘Common Ground’.”
New Orleans Times Picayune – September 26, 2004
“Exhaustively researched and eloquently reported….clear-headed, deeply sensitive, and richly informative.”
San Jose Mercury News – September 19, 2004