WELFARE'S END by Gwendolyn Mink


Email this review


 At last--a serious counterthrust against the popular self-interested praise for welfare reform. Even if you hated the recently abolished welfare system, the glee with which the poor were demonized could be discomforting. There is something unseemly about observing the well-to-do chastising the impoverished and then preparing to reap the financial benefits. In response Mink (Political Science/Univ. of Calif., Santa Cruz) goes beyond questioning myths, exposing hypocrisy, and offering sympathy; she offers a positive argument for welfare as a fundamental right. In this society, mothers are unpaid workers. If they're also single and poor, they are workers uniquely at risk: While their occupation is essential and usually highly praised, if they pursue it seriously, they will find themselves in dire straits. Welfare originated in this country as a solution to this quandary, a recognition that women with children lacking a working husband or independent financial means need assistance if they are to function as mothers. In the prosperous 1990s, we have cast aside this commitment, and Mink argues that we have gone beyond heartlessness and denied poor, single mothers a necessary element of citizenship. Moreover, establishing parenting as a right and recognizing the need to support it would lessen gender inequality where it really counts: care-giving to children. In fact, of course, the odds of a popular upswell in this direction are dismal. Despite lip service given to traditional concerns and family values, welfare reform attracted approval not only from Republicans and opponents of women's issues, but also from more surprising constituencies, including some in the mainstream women's movement. As long as groups like the latter find, for example, challenging glass ceilings in the workplace for middle- and upper-class women more compelling than championing the cause of poor women in the home, Mink's courage will be commendable but probably not fruitful. Something to think about as the time limits on welfare support start kicking in.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8014-3347-9
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Cornell Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998


by Tom Corbett