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Bob Edgar addresses reception for new book on welfare reform

Photo: At the Nov. 7 release of the book Washington's New Poor Law, NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar speaks about the Council's Poverty Mobilization. Professors Mimi Abramovitz of the Hunter School of Social Work and Herbert J. Gans of the Columbia University Sociology Department also spoke. 

November 7, 2001, NEW YORK CITY -- The National Council of Churches hosted a seminar and reception here today honoring authors Sheila D. Collins and Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg on the release of their new book, Washington's New Poor Law.

Collins and Goldberg are co-founders of an NCC partner, the National Jobs for All Coalition. The book tracks repeated failures to "reform" welfare from 1935 to 2001, including the current crisis over  reauthorization of TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) in the face of an economic downturn.

"TANF didn't work well, even by government standards, without a recession," Goldberg said.

Published by The Apex Press, the book is a comprehensive look at the impact of the AFDC program -- commonly known as "welfare" -- and its successor, the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, popularly known as "welfare reform."  It explores the true costs of the new welfare reform legislation and how "ending welfare as we know it" has impacted the lives of America's poorest citizens.

Authors Collins and Goldberg make a case that welfare reform legislation offers neither "work opportunity" nor real reform.  In failing to create an entitlement to work while imposing strict, time-limited work requirements, Washington has, in effect, written a new Poor Law, they contend. 

Like earlier poor laws, it condemns the poor to continued or further impoverishment and public stigma, they say.  Moreover, the law will likely have the effect of depressing wages, increasing hardship and exacerbating social conflict, they assert.

Collins and Goldberg argue that true welfare reform is still possible.   They show how a program of real reform, the centerpiece of which is government commitment to jobs for all at family-supporting wages, is socially and ethically desirable as well as economically feasible.

Public interest in the plight of the working poor  has been stimulated by Barbara Ehrenreich's new bestseller, Nickel and Dimed, and by the emerging debate in Congress over reauthorization of welfare legislation in 2002.  The Goldberg and Collins book provides critical analysis and historical background to understanding the harsh realities of welfare reform and the vital issues confronting Congress.

As a definitive, scholarly look at welfare and welfare reform, Washington's New Poor Law will be a critical work for public policy makers, political leaders, anti-poverty workers, researchers, policy analysts, scholars, students and for the reading public interested in how public policy shapes American society.

Trude Goldberg is Professor of Social Work at Adelphi University.   Sheila Collins is Professor of Political Science at William Patterson University.

Phone the NCC at 212-870-2299 or e-mail for a copy of Washington's New Poor Law at a special price: $20 (softcover).   Offer valid while supplies last.  The book also may be ordered for $29.95 (softcover) or $51.95 (hardcover) from Apex Press at 800-316-2739; e-mail or visit


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