Blog 2 – March 3

The intersection of race, gender and class: How did reading DeParle change your perception of the ability of social policy to combat poverty? In thinking about Stone’s definition of the goal of liberty and the problem of equality, describe how DeParle’s book discusses the liberty-welfare trade off. Do you think DeParle believe’s there is a trade off?

Changing My Perception

Reading DeParle did not change my perception that social policy can only somewhat assist in combating poverty. DeParle summarizes the differing social policies and approaches to poverty of multiple political administrations. Although a variety of social policies and strategies are tried in attempts to improve poverty, arguably the situation of poverty in this country is not substantially diminished. The effort to combat poverty is equally as important as the ways and means. If the condition of poverty is not essentially changing, then the way effort is used, and the means by which it is applied, makes the effort less valuable. While social policy is a valuable tool in assisting to combat poverty, there are a few important factors largely unaddressed by DeParle and our society: the prevalent drug culture in areas of poverty, men in poverty, and welfare recipients missing as voices in the political process.

DeParle’s Description of the Liberty-Welfare Tradeoff

By having a welfare system based upon not providing clear pathways to leave, such as through education and improved job skills, people naturally revert to using the welfare resource system as a means for being sustained. Welfare recipients are survivors in a harsh environment where personal strength and perseverance, community, and survival education are the primary quality of life factors. DeParle observes that Jewell worked for the post office and continued to receive her full welfare and food stamps. In her words “money was just coming in from everywhere” (DeParle, p. 158) and a desire for life to be different is not expressed. That scholastic education is not portrayed to those who are impoverished as an important tool for advancement out of poverty explains why Jewell failed a reading test for possible work placement. The value of having reading skills is considered to be low. At this point, Jewell is not shown to express a desire for a different life style that might not include welfare and is not seeking tools to change her situation. Jewell demonstrates a willingness to work at various low-paying jobs such as office cleaning and telemarketing. Additionally, she willingly provides child caregiving services for her housemates that do work. By mid-point in his book, the trade off DeParle seems to describe is that those who are impoverished receive the most basic of food, shelter, medical, and education needs in order to maintain them as a domestic source of low cost labor.

Does Deparle Believe There is a Tradeoff

Yes in the sense that Stone observes that to be dependent on others for welfare means being subject to their control. In the survival impressions from DeParle’s case studies, people will do what they need to do to survive. Under current policy, survival means taking advantage of the welfare system. Survival is not dependent on education or job advancement; conversely, these are risks. In this respect the welfare system is set up to not advance people out. Perpetuating reliance on the welfare system could be considered an infringement on liberty, having a real choice free of the possibility of hurting their survival chances.


 No in the sense that Stone observes that complete self-sufficiency is an illusory ideal and dependence on others is inevitable-but help from others enhances liberty. As chronicled by DeParle, survival is dependent upon available resources. The resources identified by welfare recipients are as support provided by people and money from welfare checks, jobs, and family and friends. Money from welfare and jobs are balanced by the state but assistance from family and friends can favor the recipient and enhance liberty. Because those on welfare support each other, all who participate are positively affected, for example: by exchanging TANF and SNAP benefits, transportation, and childcare services.


DeParle, J. (2004). American Dream. New York, New York: Viking Penguin.

Stone, D. (2012). Policy paradox. New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.