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Flat Broke With Children: A Deeper Analysis, Book Review Example

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Book Review

“A nation’s laws reflect a nation’s values.”(Hays, pg. 1) One of the most often quoted lines from Dr. Sharon Hays’ Flat Broke with Children. Within this book, she discusses the state of the single mother and the welfare reform in the United States headed by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Hays reflects on unequal and unjust system of allocating societal resources to dispute that those that receive welfare has the same core values as those Americans that do not. Throughout her book, she asserts that the act of demonizing the welfare of mothers permits the government to wash their hands of the poorer population. This paper will give a deeper analysis of Hay’s Flat Broke with Children and the issues presented throughout the book with aid from updated studies and research about the state of welfare reform today and how Hay’s views the impact it has had on women and children.

In writing her book, Hays spent over 600 hours interviewing 50 welfare caseworkers and 130 welfare mothers. Throughout the process, she was taken aback by the ordinary nature of most of the people who lived on welfare. Unlike the stereotypes of typical welfare cases, the stories of the women were not of them avoiding work, but of women who had previously worked hard at different jobs but were met with unfortunate circumstances. Other women made poor decisions early on in their lives that despite considerable efforts were never able to recover. What Hays and other publications make clear is that often these women string of failures are partly the fault of the exact welfare system that has provided these women with little helpful assistance to enable them to turn their lives around. A sentiment that she reveals are echoed by caseworkers was they viewed welfare as a “trap”. These women that she interviewed were neither saintly heroes nor welfare queens; instead they were young people trying to live day by day.

“Poverty rates are still lower and work rates still higher than before welfare reform.” (Ross, 2011) Within the political parties of the United States, welfare reform has been considered a success that has helped to reduce the number dependent on government assistance, from 12. 6 million to 4 million. The number of welfare caseloads have shrunk significantly as well with numbers decreasing by 60 percent. (Covert, 2012) The welfare laws created in the 1960’s reflected ideas of equality and support for single mothers , and child care values. The history of welfare makes it clear that, in practice, aid was denied to many women who were understood as not ‘virtuous’ enough to be worthy of a family ideal. By the late 1960’s. Increasing numbers of poor single mothers were using welfare for the purposes for which it was originally intended. They were staying at home to care for their young children, just as the ideal of appropriate family life prescribed. (Hays, pg. 14). The problem, Hays explains that the TANF and other programs were established on the assumption that welfare mothers are accountable for deflating the moral principles of society. The behavioral methods that are applied to the mothers is, “mothers are required to provide financial support for their children, seek out and manage childcare arrangements, make certain their children receive all their vaccinations, and see that their children attend school every day.” (Hays, pg. 65)

Many of the instituted policies and procedures are aimed at fixing women. Past policies followed the logic of past rhetoric that assumed that mothers were supposed to stay at home. (Hays, pg. 25) The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996 signed by Bill Clinton and introduced by a Republican congressman. The United States have subscribed to a more individualistic responsibility of government in assisting the needy. Clinton felt that the signing of the act would “end welfare as we know it” (Ross, 2011) the signing of the act has come with many resignations. During the signing, many of Clinton’s advisors and staff of his administration resigned in protest. Several women and policy advocates pointed out “welfare reform specifically targeted women, children, and disproportionate share of non-whites-thus adding to the hardship of those who already face widespread discrimination.” (Hays, pg. 6) The purpose that Clinton saw as the Act would draw women that were dependent on the government to go out and work while the government gave states lumps of money to create programs to prepare and train women for going out into the workforce. However, at the time of the signing the job market and the economy was vibrant, and at present, more than 15 million people are out of work, with the number of work applicants far outnumbering the number of jobs available. “The social safety net is failing to keep pace with the needs of struggling Americans.”(Ross, 2011)

The factor that the number of single women with children on welfare is steadily increasing further contradicts the self-perception of the US as a nation of strong family values where the nuclear family is the norm. The nuclear family unit functions on an ideological level as the alternative to joint responsibility for dependents. The values and laws discussed by Hays are those concerning welfare especially in regards to women and work. When the American values changed the regulations and rules of welfare usually followed. In 1935, the state would provide welfare benefits for the women of families if the husband was absent due to death or other circumstances. This concept reflects the American value at the time that the woman was a domestic wife, and the husband was the breadwinner. The role of women coincides directly with the welfare laws. As women began to enter the workforce, single parenting also became much more common, and the economy rose drastically, as well. Those changes then were reflected through the change in welfare. “New federal rules were enacted throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. Welfare mothers were encouraged to get training and go to work a limited number of two-parent families were allowed to receive welfare benefits under stringent criteria, and the system of child support enforcement was linked to welfare” (Hays, pg. 14)

The Personal Responsibility Act specifically defined marriage as the factor to an economically and socially beneficial society. The goals of the act provided a statement that openly challenges the assumed lifestyles of the single mothers who make up 90% of the welfare clients, and only 7% of welfare recipients are headed by a two parent household. (Hays, pg., 11) Although marriage is seen as the best interests of children, children on welfare outnumber adults by a ratio of two to one, yet the law reduce benefits to children. Welfare reform initially were supposed to focus on pushing to work and being self-sufficient; however, it has pushed its underlying motives of morality in traditional marriage and family. Policymakers are focused on the wrong agenda that was apparently not to ameliorate the fact that children are the ones profoundly affected by the results of poverty and lack of access to the welfare benefits. The laws show that the problems of teen pregnancy, children born out of wedlock, and single parent households contribute to poverty. The goals of the act were not only to decrease dependency but to also, “prevent and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies…and encourage the formation and maintenance of two parent households.”(Hays, pg. 17)

A reorganization of TANF’s purposes and goals needs to be reevaluated. TANF needs to focus on benefitting the children, making sure that all those that apply that meet the standards be adequately benefited. A lot of people that receive TANF have not received their G.E.D, so resources need to be shifted towards helping those receive education in order to better themselves and families. (Hays, pg. 109) As Hays points out a more dedicated effort by local and federal government needs to focus on reorganizing TANF, “…more coordinated federal effort could help states and localities move TANF recipients with impairments toward employment.”(Hays, pg. 278)

The requirements of sustaining welfare demand that women must work, stricter laws have been passed to limit the time that people can receive welfare. Stricter requirements that require, continuous job training and workshops in order to keep welfare have left many families in an endless cycle of dependency with no jobs available and slashes to benefits continually happening.  Nevertheless, all mothers, whether single or married are obligated to work, or they would lose their benefits. Therefore, two opposing declarations of employment and the family unit are asserted. Hays wonders in order to understand welfare reform, are marriage and family relevant or the significance of gaining independence to pursue employment over the nurturing of the child more critical.

Hays refers to contradictory ideas of the Family Plan and the Work Plan. The ideal of the Work Plan is that mothers that are trained to value work and self-sufficiency than they will be able to find jobs and get off welfare “In this model, the ideal of independence-long associated with values of citizenship, self-governance, and full social-membership in Western culture thereby transformed into a simple demand for paid work.”(Hays, pg., 34) This is a production of the fundamental problem that provides the stigma that welfare recipients are lazy and lack the motivation to look for work. What the plan ignores is that many of the targeted recipients are mothers with children and children are dependent on their mother. The jobs laid out for the mothers are low paying and low waged which contributes to the stability of welfare assistance. In the Family Plan ties in with the goals of the Personal and Responsibility Act that leads mothers and single women to rely on the dependency of a male figure or a husband to be the breadwinner. (Hays, pg. 65) This helps to define the “logic of a certain form of classical conservatism” (Hays, pg.19) The Family Plan, unlike the Work Plan uses work requirements as a way of punishing mothers for their failure to get married or stay married.  The edict of the Family Plan is so backwards that it tends to send the progress that the feminist movement brought back to the 1950’s. Hays reiterates that the purpose of the Family Plan, “work requirements will teach women a lesson; they will come to know better than to get divorced or to have children out of wedlock. They will learn that their duty is to control their fertility, to get married, to stay married, and to dedicate themselves to the care of others.” (Hays, pg. 19) What the Family Plan tries to instill is the normal social order of a traditional family, what they benefit for children is that is representing the picture of what an idealized family is with the patriarch working and the mother nurturing the children. Both of these contradictory plans reflect the ideals of most policy makers that lead to the out of date and uncertainty of regulation of welfare reform.

In order to meet the needs of welfare recipients, Americans must consider the recipients as individuals, rather than conforming to using the stereotypes that have riddled through the American understanding of welfare reform. Hays’ asserts that the” Personal Responsibility Act is much more than a set of policies aimed at managing the poor, it also provides a reflected an image of American culture, and reinforces a system of beliefs about how all of us should act.” (Hays, pg. 9)  The real face of welfare in America are children. They are generally the most affected, which is why it is crucial for the upcoming generation that the United States should reform the welfare system as well as the safety net it provides to needy individuals. According to Hays, the current policies sideswipe the ideal of what the safety net should be in order to be used as a launching pad for mothers. Those in poverty will remain in poverty as they continue to await the political reform of new policies that effectively address and provides solutions to poverty and welfare.

Throughout the book Hays addresses prejudices and stereotypes concerning welfare recipients. Consequently, she comes to the conclusion that several of those on welfare are unable to get out their situation due to the poor nature of the welfare reform. Changes in welfare regulations have made it difficult for people to receive benefits. Even those that are supposed to qualify, and live below poverty lines cannot get the adequate benefits that they are entitled to. Welfare has not been a success, work needs to be done to reorganize, redshift purposes and goals for the economy and dealing with the poor population and more importantly the children. TANF and other programs have supported and contributed to the state of reliance on government assistance. The economy has contributed to the growing need of families’ dependent of welfare benefits however, the current state of welfare reform has made it difficult for some families. As Hays pointed out, welfare reform is only one response to the problem, more needs to be done to effectively solve the situation of those families in need.

References

Covert, Bryce. Clinton Touts Welfare Reform: Here’s How He Failed. (2012). The Nation. Retrieved from http://www.thenation.com/blog/169788/clinton-touts-welfare-reform-heres-how-it-failed#

Hays, Sharon Dr. Flat Broke With Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform. (2003). Oxford University Press. New York, New York.

Ross. Janelle. Welfare Reform Leaving More in Poverty. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/23/welfare-reform-poverty_n_932490.html

Zedlewski, Sheila, Pamela Loprest, Erika Huber. What Role Is Welfare Playing in This Period of High Unemployment? (2011) Urban Institute. Retrieved from http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/412378-Role-of-Welfare-in-this-Period-of-High-Unemployment.pdf

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