Sunday, June 15, 2008

Who’ll Stop the Rain?

Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work
By Kathryn Edin and Laura Lein
Russell Sage Foundation, March 1997
$22.00, ISBN: 087154234X

(Check out my Wikipedia exposé, “Wikipedia on Race,” in the July 2008 American Renaissance!)

Reviewed by Nicholas Stix

During the early 1980s, social scientists noticed that welfare mothers were spending three to six times their official incomes. In his exquisitely written foreword, Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks argues persuasively that in a “conspiracy of silence,” conservatives didn’t want to admit that mothers could not survive on welfare checks alone, while “liberals” didn’t want to admit that clients had unreported resources. Jencks and his colleagues asked where the additional money was coming from. Making Ends Meet provides some answers.

Aided by over thirty research associates, sociologist Kathryn Edin and anthropologist Laura Lein interviewed 379 single welfare AND poor working mothers in Chicago, Boston, San Antonio, Charleston and rural Minnesota. The authors compared the groups, with the purpose of undermining welfare reform.

Virtually all of the mothers studied derived income from their children’s fathers, from boyfriends, relatives, off-the-books jobs (e.g., babysitting), selling stolen goods, prostitution or dealing drugs. Despite unreported income, uneducated, unskilled women working at "dead-end" jobs were barely treading water.
The authors report that single, working mothers have more cash, yet suffer greater hardships than their non-working counterparts.

Working mothers must pay for additional transportation, and for services such as medical and child care that welfare mothers get free. Edin and Lein thus conclude that poor women are usually worse off working than being on welfare.

The authors tend to exaggerate the difficulty of finding affordable child care. Although a respondent told of getting babysitting services from a welfare mother for a bag or two of groceries per month, the authors speak of “market-rate” (read: exorbitant, state-licensed) child care. As NYU political scientist Lawrence Mead noted in The New Politics of Poverty (1992), as Jencks corroborates, and as I know from direct experience, poor working mothers are able to negotiate affordable, unlicensed child care without “service-providers” from inflationary, government programs. The supposed lack of child care is a rehearsed response that welfare mothers know to give to credulous, “Suzy the social worker” (a term a foster-care caseworker colleague taught me) types and socialist/radical multicultural academic researchers: “I really want to work, but ...”

Edin and Lein alternate between the role of “Suzies” and that of dogged interviewers. They re-interview respondents who initially gave unrealistic budgets, or ambiguous or misleading answers on whether they were receiving child support, or engaging in casual prostitution. The pervasiveness of casual prostitution matched my own observations in New York’s slums; that of informal child support surprised me. However, when it comes to the mothers’ rationalizations for not working, it’s “Suzy time” again. The conflicted authors emphasize mothers’ concern with avoiding criminal activity, despite chronicling their involvement in prostitution, and in contracting with shoplifters to steal clothing for their children.

Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, and the Democrats’ ensuing Northern Strategy’s revolutionary anti-morality put dunce caps on millennia-old moral teachings prohibiting premarital sex. Armies of sexual “educators” and “helping” professionals and their university and media apologists told girls they had a right to “non-marital births,” and demanded that hardworking, married folks support those children. Implicitly re-defining a family as an unwed mother and child(ren), the authors are shocked, shocked, that this results in a poor, unskilled girl raising her fatherless child(ren) in poverty.

(As liberal Democratic historian Fred Siegel (The Future Once Happened Here) has chronicled, the Marxist National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO) sought to bankrupt New York City, and precipitate a revolution. From 1966-73, liberal Republican Mayor John V. Lindsay’s social services commissioner, Mitchell “Come and Get It” Ginsberg, more than doubled the welfare rolls, from 538,000 to 1.165 million. At the same time, the NWRO pursued a politics of racial polarization, which it later projected on to Republicans. Instead of a revolution, the NWRO precipitated the moral collapse of urban black society.)

In seeing life in “some of the country’s most dangerous neighborhoods” as driving concerned mothers onto the dole, rather than leave their children unsupervised while they work, the authors confuse cause and effect. It is the spread of illegitimacy and welfare, and their accompanying vices, that has made such areas so dangerous.

In Why Nothing Works (1987), “liberal” anthropologist Marvin Harris “explained” that welfare clients raised their sons to be violent, the better to protect the mothers (from other women’s sons). Hence, to the degree that poor young blacks and Hispanics embrace crime, they do so not in response to (white) racism, or lack of opportunity, but to their rearing.

Millions of American couples avoid poverty through pooling modest paychecks, one spouse working extra hours, sharing responsibilities, relying on relatives for child care and limiting their wants. The authors have unwittingly made a compelling case for demolishing the welfare state and its “alternative” family models. The solution is marriage.

When I was a foster-care caseworker, one of my clients almost always missed agency visits to see her seven children. “I didn’t want to leave the house, ‘cause it was rainin,’” gradually became “It looked like it MIGHT rain.” Edin and Lein deny the morality of work and responsible living, yet portray welfare clients as always a government program away from employability. But government will never be able to stop the rain, just as it will never be able to guarantee uneducated, unskilled women “good jobs.”

I doubt that Making Ends Meet will cause an uncommitted reader to suddenly empathize with welfare clients. In a New York Times puff piece, Edin inadvertently clarified the book’s (for me) peculiar sensibility. Reporter Jason DeParle related that while Edin, who is white, found black children beautiful, “white children at times began to look ‘homely’” to her. Rather than caring about ALL poor kids, Kathryn Edin apparently feels a blind loyalty to poor black women and their children, and a corresponding obligation to be repelled by children of her own race. How sad.

Originally published in the February, 1998 Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.

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