THE MYTH OF THE WELFARE QUEEN by David Zucchino

THE MYTH OF THE WELFARE QUEEN

A Pulitzer-Prize Winning Journalist's Portrait of Women on the Line
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A glimpse into the actual lives of two members of that unfortunate subset of society that Americans love to stereotype and despise: the welfare mother. Zucchino, foreign editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, follows Odessa Williams on her ``trash-picking'' rounds and to the welfare office as she endeavors to support the grandchildren under her permanent care as well as additional family members who move in and out as crises dictate. Crises are not unusual in Odessa's world, so she gets plenty of opportunity to exercise her resourcefulness in responding to fires, problems at school, brushes with the law, drugs and drug pushers, uncertain employment for her grown son, and the challenges of physical survival posed by poverty. Meanwhile, Cheri Honkala relies on welfare and what she can earn at night as a topless dancer to support her son, while devoting her days to fighting homelessness. She helps create a tent city to protest welfare cuts, joins the occupation of an abandoned church and the takeover by protesters of empty houses owned by HUD. She tirelessly seeks publicity for her cause, battles with bureaucrats, and rallies and comforts fellow protesters. Far from lazy, these women are stretched to the limit. Zucchino does not obscure the ugliness- -including welfare recipients who embrace dependence--that surrounds them, but what stands out is the resilience of these women in the face of events that would be insurmountable tragedies for most middle- and upper-class Americans. It is unlikely this book will engender new and widespread respect for welfare mothers, for the ``welfare queen'' myth draws its strength from what people want to believe, not misperceptions of reality. But by setting aside presuppositions and moral judgments to simply describe what he finds, Zucchino offers a substantive image of life on welfare for those who want to see it. (Author tour)*justify no*  A glimpse into the actual lives of two members of that unfortunate subset of society that Americans love to stereotype and despise: the welfare mother. Zucchino, foreign editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, follows Odessa Williams on her ``trash-picking'' rounds and to the welfare office as she endeavors to support the grandchildren under her permanent care as well as additional family members who move in and out as crises dictate. Crises are not unusual in Odessa's world, so she gets plenty of opportunity to exercise her resourcefulness in responding to fires, problems at school, brushes with the law, drugs and drug pushers, uncertain employment for her grown son, and the challenges of physical survival posed by poverty. Meanwhile, Cheri Honkala relies on welfare and what she can earn at night as a topless dancer to support her son, while devoting her days to fighting homelessness. She helps create a tent city to protest welfare cuts, joins the occupation of an abandoned church and the takeover by protesters of empty houses owned by HUD. She tirelessly seeks publicity for her cause, battles with bureaucrats, and rallies and comforts fellow protesters. Far from lazy, these women are stretched to the limit. Zucchino does not obscure the ugliness- -including welfare recipients who embrace dependence--that surrounds them, but what stands out is the resilience of these women in the face of events that would be insurmountable tragedies for most middle- and upper-class Americans. It is unlikely this book will engender new and widespread respect for welfare mothers, for the ``welfare queen'' myth draws its strength from what people want to believe, not misperceptions of reality. But by setting aside presuppositions and moral judgments to simply describe what he finds, Zucchino offers a substantive image of life on welfare for those who want to see it. (Author tour)*justify no*  A glimpse into the actual lives of two members of that unfortunate subset of society that Americans love to stereotype and despise: the welfare mother. Zucchino, foreign editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, follows Odessa Williams on her ``trash-picking'' rounds and to the welfare office as she endeavors to support the grandchildren under her permanent care as well as additional family members who move in and out as crises dictate. Crises are not unusual in Odessa's world, so she gets plenty of opportunity to exercise her resourcefulness in responding to fires, problems at school, brushes with the law, drugs and drug pushers, uncertain employment for her grown son, and the challenges of physical survival posed by poverty. Meanwhile, Cheri Honkala relies on welfare and what she can earn at night as a topless dancer to support her son, while devoting her days to fighting homelessness. She helps create a tent city to protest welfare cuts, joins the occupation of an abandoned church and the takeover by protesters of empty houses owned by HUD. She tirelessly seeks publicity for her cause, battles with bureaucrats, and rallies and comforts fellow protesters. Far from lazy, these women are stretched to the limit. Zucchino does not obscure the ugliness- -including welfare recipients who embrace dependence--that surrounds them, but what stands out is the resilience of these women in the face of events that would be insurmountable tragedies for most middle- and upper-class Americans. It is unlikely this book will engender new and widespread respect for welfare mothers, for the ``welfare queen'' myth draws its strength from what people want to believe, not misperceptions of reality. But by setting aside presuppositions and moral judgments to simply describe what he finds, Zucchino offers a substantive image of life on welfare for those who want to see it. (Author tour)*justify no*  A glimpse into the actual lives of two members of that unfortunate subset of society that Americans love to stereotype and despise: the welfare mother. Zucchino, foreign editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, follows Odessa Williams on her ``trash-picking'' rounds and to the welfare office as she endeavors to support the grandchildren under her permanent care as well as additional family members who move in and out as crises dictate. Crises are not unusual in Odessa's world, so she gets plenty of opportunity to exercise her resourcefulness in responding to fires, problems at school, brushes with the law, drugs and drug pushers, uncertain employment for her grown son, and the challenges of physical survival posed by poverty. Meanwhile, Cheri Honkala relies on welfare and what she can earn at night as a topless dancer to support her son, while devoting her days to fighting homelessness. She helps create a tent city to protest welfare cuts, joins the occupation of an abandoned church and the takeover by protesters of empty houses owned by HUD. She tirelessly seeks publicity for her cause, battles with bureaucrats, and rallies and comforts fellow protesters. Far from lazy, these women are stretched to the limit. Zucchino does not obscure the ugliness- -including welfare recipients who embrace dependence--that surrounds them, but what stands out is the resilience of these women in the face of events that would be insurmountable tragedies for most middle- and upper-class Americans. It is unlikely this book will engender new and widespread respect for welfare mothers, for the ``welfare queen'' myth draws its strength from what people want to believe, not misperceptions of reality. But by setting aside presuppositions and moral judgments to simply describe what he finds, Zucchino offers a substantive image of life on welfare for those who want to see it. (Author tour)*justify no*  A glimpse into the actual lives of two members of that unfortunate subset of society that Americans love to stereotype and despise: the welfare mother. Zucchino, foreign editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, follows Odessa Williams on her ``trash-picking'' rounds and to the welfare office as she endeavors to support the grandchildren under her permanent care as well as additional family members who move in and out as crises dictate. Crises are not unusual in Odessa's world, so she gets plenty of opportunity to exercise her resourcefulness in responding to fires, problems at school, brushes with the law, drugs and drug pushers, uncertain employment for her grown son, and the challenges of physical survival posed by poverty. Meanwhile, Cheri Honkala relies on welfare and what she can earn at night as a topless dancer to support her son, while devoting her days to fighting homelessness. She helps create a tent city to protest welfare cuts, joins the occupation of an abandoned church and the takeover by protesters of empty houses owned by HUD. She tirelessly seeks publicity for her cause, battles with bureaucrats, and rallies and comforts fellow protesters. Far from lazy, these women are stretched to the limit. Zucchino does not obscure the ugliness- -including welfare recipients who embrace dependence--that surrounds them, but what stands out is the resilience of these women in the face of events that would be insurmountable tragedies for most middle- and upper-class Americans. It is unlikely this book will engender new and widespread respect for welfare mothers, for the ``welfare queen'' myth draws its strength from what people want to believe, not misperceptions of reality. But by setting aside presuppositions and moral judgments to simply describe what he finds, Zucchino offers a substantive image of life on we

Pub Date: March 31st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-81914-7
Page count: 363pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1997