THE NEW POLITICS OF POVERTY: The Nonworking Poor in America by Lawrence M. Mead

THE NEW POLITICS OF POVERTY: The Nonworking Poor in America

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A surprising follow-up to Mead's advocacy of ""workfare"" (jobs rather than welfare) in Beyond Entitlement (1986), offering analysis of social and political trends that support his position--while granting some unexpected points to his liberal opponents. Mead (Politics/NYU) blames most poverty since 1960 on the breakdown in the work ethic among the poor, which, he says, has resulted in a ""politics of dependency."" In several chapters refuting the usual explanations for the poor's lower work rates, the author summarizes his earlier arguments and those of other experts (notably William Julius Wilson) with balance and fairness. Mead's central question is whether society should enforce an assumption that everyone is competent to work or, instead, should accommodate the ""special inhibitions of the poor."" To his credit, he now grasps the nettle of the ""new paternalism"" at the core of his earlier workfare prescription. ""Human Nature,"" the heart of Mead's argument, includes some insights unusual in conservative commentary: ""A large part of today's poor might well be described as people, or the descendants of people, who did not really choose to come to America""; and, ""There is nothing inherently superior about Western culture."" Also surprising is his outlook for liberals: Welfare recipients, he says, may become more activist as they join the working world, with a resulting shift to the left in national politics. With socialism now in disfavor, though, Mead seems to project ""conservatism with a human face"" as the dominant political trend. Mead tries hard to explain the poor's evident fatalism and passivity and the fact that almost none of their advocates are themselves poor, but his analysis relies almost entirely on high-level statistical surveys and political analysis that sometimes appear to be out of touch with the realities of individual lives.

Pub Date: April 22nd, 1992
ISBN: 0465050697
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Basic Books