In this definitive work, two-time Pulitzer finalist Jason DeParle, author of A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, 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.
While campaigning for president in 1992, Bill Clinton vowed to "end welfare as we know it"; four years later, the much publicized slogan evolved into a law that sent nine million women and children off the rolls. New York Times reporter DeParle takes an eye-opening look at the controversial law through the lives of three black women affected by it, all part of the same extended family, and at the shapers of the policy. He moves back and forth between the women's tough Milwaukee neighborhoods and the strategy sessions and speeches of Clinton, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and others. But the best parts of the book are its slices of life: DeParle accompanies the women on trips to the dentist, on visits to loved ones in jail, to job-training workshops and on travels to Mississippi. He offers few solutions for breaking the cycle of poverty and dependency in America, but DeParle's large-scale conclusion is that moving poor women into the workforce contributed to declines in crime, teen pregnancy and crack use.