View all Events
Event Culture Poverty & Welfare

Whither Welfare Reform? Lessons from the Wisconsin Experience

Tuesday September 2004

HENRY OLSEN:< I am executive director of the Center for Civic Innovation of the Manhattan Institute—a group within the institute that is sponsoring today's event and has sponsored social science research in the past by former budget director June O'Neill on the effect of welfare reform. Today's moderator, Gordon Berlin, is president of MDRC, one of the nation’s premier social science research firms.

GORDON BERLIN: We have a remarkable group of speakers today. Jason DeParle, the author of American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare, is a senior writer at the New York Times who has reported on social welfare policies for the last sixteen years. His stories have appeared on the front page of the New York Times more than those of any other reporter who has written about these issues. He brings the sharp eye and probing questions of a fine journalist to bear, and he weaves an intricate story of federal and state reform as seen through the eyes of the people who formulated those polices. He had direct access to Tommy Thompson and Bill Clinton, and we hear their points of view through the staff who administered those programs and through the people who experienced those programs. Mr. DeParle teaches us an eternal truth that must be relearned every five or ten years: that poor people’s lives are very complicated and that government only plays a small part in those lives.

Lawrence Mead is a professor in the Department of Politics at New York University. He has been a student of welfare policy since the 1970s, when we collaborated on a study of the Work Incentive Program, the nation's first welfare to work program. His most recent book, Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin, is his fourth major work on the politics of poverty and welfare reform. He breaks new ground in this book, applying an academic political scientist's tools to the process of how policy gets formed and, more importantly, how it gets implemented.