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NPR News

'American Dream': A Welfare Reform Odyssey

Correspondent Cheryl Devall talks with New York Times reporter Jason DeParle about the struggles of women who have gotten off welfare -- a seven-year odyssey he chronicles in his new book American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare.

Nearly a decade has passed since President Clinton and Congress vowed to end "welfare as we know it." A Republican-controlled Congress passed -- and Democrat Clinton signed into law -- sweeping changes to the national welfare system that imposed a five-year limit on benefits, required able-bodied recipients to go to work after two years of getting benefits, and gave states incentives to create jobs for welfare recipients.

Jobs were supposed to be the way to a better life for women on welfare -- and for some, the welfare reform package led to a better life. But for many others, long hours at low-wage jobs caused even more pain. DeParle chronicles the struggles of three African-American women and their families with and without welfare benefits, and takes a hard look at how Washington policies often don't fit personal circumstances and economic reality.

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