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Jason DeParle, 'A Nation's Drive to End Welfare'

DeParle is The New York Times' welfare policy reporter. His new book is American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare. DeParle tracks the lives of three families in Milwaukee affected by welfare reform laws.




Related Topic

Other segments from the episode on September 20, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 20, 2004: Interview with Jason DeParle; Review of the fall television programs; Review of Von Freeman's new album "The Great Divide."


DATE September 20, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Jason DeParle discusses his book, "American Dream"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

The 1996 Welfare Reform Law, known as the Personal Responsibility Act, has by
some measures been a remarkable success. Driven by time limits for benefits
and work requirements and buoyed by an expanding national economy, nine
million people have left the welfare rolls, and many have joined the work
force. My guest Jason DeParle is a senior writer for The New York Times and
has covered poverty in America for most of his 20-year career. Interested in
whether the new laws could truly transform the lives of single welfare moms,
he spent seven years following three women and their extended families in
Milwaukee, where Wisconsin's welfare reform is considered a national model.
The result is his book "American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's
Drive to End Welfare."

Well, Jason DeParle, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. JASON DePARLE (The New York Times; Author, "American Dream: Three Women,
Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare"): Thank you.

DAVIES: You followed three extended families in Milwaukee, women and their
children, who were involved in the welfare reform experiment that's widely
regarded as among the most successful. How did you get such intimate access
to these folks and their lives over such a long period of time?

Mr. DePARLE: Well, it happened bit by bit. I first met a woman named Opal
Caples, you know, in a welfare office in the summer of 1997, and she was very
open and friendly and inviting, invited me to come tag along with her. She
was on welfare but she was working at a hospital. So I went and spent a few
nights doing the--she was a night cleaning woman in a hospital. I spent a few
nights doing the rounds with her. And she told a very frank, candid account
of her life of growing up in the projects in Chicago and having been thrown
out of various schools and gotten pregnant and gone on welfare and seemed not
the least bit interested in burnishing her image in any way but said, as an
aside, `You know, one thing I never did in my life was drugs. That's just one
thing I never got into.' And I went to her house, and there was a big `No
Drugs' sign on her door. And her boyfriend was wearing a `No Drugs' sign on
his lapel. And I came to find out a couple months later she was on drugs; she
was addicted to crack and was in the process of backsliding at that point.
And within nine months she had lost her job and was pregnant, homeless, living
on the streets and wound up living in a crackhouse.

Throughout that time Opal, surprisingly, remained open to seeing me, hearing
from me. I found her a few times when she was living in the crackhouse. We
went out to dinner. And through her--eventually she--before her baby was
born, when she was about eight months pregnant, she came off the streets and
went to live with one of her cousins. So through Opal I met the cousin, and
through that cousin--the book focuses on three women. They're cousins. They
form a trio together in Milwaukee. They lived together for many years and are
not only cousins but best friends, almost co-parents to each other's children.
So I met the other two women through Opal.

And they were initially, I think, harder to get to know than Opal, although as
Opal's problems compounded, she kind of drifted away. And I was left with
Angie and Jewell, who initially weren't signed up to be part of a journalism
experiment. But there we were with each other, and I think over time they
grew comfortable with me.

DAVIES: One of the policy underpinnings of welfare reform is the notion that
welfare has created, among the community it serves, a culture of dependency;
that people feel entitled to government assistant and that that sort of
attitude needed to be modified. To what extent does that describe the women
that you got to know so well?

Mr. DePARLE: Yeah, I spent a lot of time thinking about the word `dependency'
because it didn't describe them in any way. The other word that came up a lot
in the discussion of welfare was `entitlement.' There was a feeling that the
poor were besotted with a culture of entitlement. And what really struck me
about Angie and Jewell's story is how little they felt they were entitled to.
They leave welfare, they go to work. Even as--they go to work, and they
become successful workers. Angie and Jewell outearned about 80 to 85 percent
of the women leaving the rolls in Wisconsin. Yet even as successful workers,
they lose their lights, they lose their health insurance. Jewell winds up
having her wages garnished. They find times when they run out of food. They
didn't feel entitled to--and part of what struck me about that is how it was
no surprise to them. At one point Jewell winds up with her wages garnished
for--after losing her health insurance, she winds up with a hospital bill, and
her wages are being garnished to pay off the bill. I asked her about it. She
looked at me and said, `Well, everybody who goes to work in Milwaukee is going
to have their wages garnished.' But her expectation was--it wasn't a surprise
at all.

DAVIES: Clearly one of the things that made the lives of these three women
difficult was the fact that they were single moms with a lot of kids,
generally begun in their teen-age years. Jewell, who you mentioned, became
pregnant in high school. To what extent was that an accident or a conscious
decision on her part to become a teen-age mom?

Mr. DePARLE: The three women had different experiences in that way. Opal
actually got married and had her kids when she was married. Angie, I would
say, had her kids by accident. But Jewell, who you asked about, was in a very
unhappy situation at home. There was a stepfather in the house that she
didn't get along with at all. And she very consciously set out to have a
child. Her older sister, who had gotten pregnant in high school and gone on
AFDC and became a single mother and kind of worked her way off it, went to
community college--she was trying very hard to convince Jewell to end the
pregnancy, not to go through with it. And Jewell just had her mind made up
that she wanted something to love, she wanted something of her own.

You know, you hear those stories from time to time about teen-age girls
wanting a child to love, and usually what happens is then they find out how
difficult it is and find out, you know, it wasn't as simple as they had
thought. In Jewell's case, I think, it sort of did work the way she wanted it.
Her baby became the center of her life, and I don't think she ever had any
regrets about it.

DAVIES: One of the elements of welfare reform was to put welfare recipients
through job-readiness classes, which is designed to provide motivation and
life skills, you know, that people need to be regular participants in the work
force: getting there on time, you know, showing the right kind of manners,
dressing properly, etc. To what extent was that kind of instruction relevant
to the women that you spoke to?

Mr. DePARLE: Very little. In fact, that was one of the big surprises to me
of the book. I thought most of the content of the book would be a
back-and-forth between the women and the welfare system; that they would be in
an office, go through a class, get some guidance, go out and find a job, the
job wouldn't work, they'd come back, and there'd be a sort of long and
extended back-and-forth with a caseworker or with the office; that much of the
book would take place in that location. What happened with Angie and Jewell is
as soon as they changed the rules and said, `Now you have to perform a
community service job in order to get a check, they immediately went out and
got jobs on their own. I mean, Jewell said, `Why would I do that? Why would
I,' as she put it, `work for free when I could go out and work and get paid?'

Jewell had been on welfare for eight years and had no education and still went
out and was able to find a job within a few months. Angie had been on for 12
years and had no high school education and did the same thing. They were much
more capable of holding jobs than any of us had expected, anybody in the
professional welfare community and, you know, certainly than I had expected.
Getting in to work was not a problem at all. At times keeping the work was a
problem. And certainly the rewards of the work was a problem; it didn't pay
much or bring them much.

DAVIES: But the two, you write, who did find work when the welfare system
required to find it, I mean, a lot of people would regard that as a
successful. I mean, it reduced the welfare rolls. To what extent did it
transform either of their lives and give them, you know, a lever to upward

Mr. DePARLE: Well, I think you have to distinguish between two subjects
here, which tend to get complated. One is: What did it do for them? And the
other is: What did it do for their kids? Let me take the main character,
Angie, in the book. She goes to work as a nursing aide in a nursing home, and
some of your listeners may not realize just how difficult and actually even
dangerous that work is. I was astonished to discover that nursing aides get
injured at twice the rate of coal miners. It's becuaes they're lifting all
the time. You know, they're lifting patients from all kinds of awkward
angles, all kinds of awkward times. Sometimes the patients fight back. They
make about $7.50 an hour, and about a fifth of them don't even have health
insurance. So it's a--the turnover in some of those nursing homes runs 100
percent a year. It can be a real sweatshop job.

And Angie goes into that work, and she really flourishes in it. She really
likes it. She likes wearing the smock. She likes thinking of herself as a
nurse. She likes the atmosphere. She really likes the patients. It brings
out a wonderful empathetic vein in her. I always thought she had more
patience for her patients than she did for her kids. She's in a nursing home
cleaning a frail, frightened elderly white woman, who looks up at Angie and
snaps at her: `Get your hands off me, you' you-know-what. Angie is
African-American; it's a racial slur. On the streets that would have
completely set Angie off, you know, and she might have gone in her pocket and
pulled out a knife. With this woman on the ward, Angie just laughed and said,
`Well, the you-know-what is cleaning you because you can't do it yourself, and
so you might as well let me.' And, you know, I asked her about it afterwards.
She said, `Well, you now old people. They're not--they're stuck in their
ways, and they're not responsible for what they say.'

I spent a lot of time thinking about, `Gee, what was it about this work that
brought out the creative, empathetic, kind quality in Angie?' There's
actually some ethnographies of working home workers, and, you know, the
question is: Why would they do this kind of work when, in some cases, fast
food pays more? And the answer is they're drawn to a caretaking role. They
find something rewarding just by being a caretaker. The second part of the
rewards hope that someone would get from work, though, has to do with their
kids. And the idea isn't just that we want the women to have more pride and
dignity and self-esteem; those are all rewards you hear. I mean, I think in
Angie's case, her work did bring all those things. But the second half of the
equation was: Well, what's it going to do for her kids? Is she going to
become a role model for her kids? And this is where I'm a little more

The idea of mothers being role models for their children has a great intuitive
appeal. It's something--you know, mothers who go to work being role models
for their children is something we'd all like to believe. The question in
this context is, you know: How much is it true when a low-income, single
mother goes to work and she's living in a sort of dangerous inner-city
neighborhood, and she's away more? How much does that do for her kids? And
Angie's kids actually missed more school after she went to work than they did
before. Their school absent--they were absent about 20 percent of the time in
the years she was on welfare, and their absentee rate rose to about 26 percent
of the time after she went to work.

DAVIES: You mentioned that Angie did well in her work as a nursing assistant.
I mean, a lot of advocates of welfare reform would say, `Well, that's exactly
what we want to see. And what should happen next is that she should move up
the ladder, she should become the supervisor, then she'll get more of an
income and be able to move towards a middle-class life.' To what extent was
that a real possibility?

Mr. DePARLE: You know, it just never happened for Angie, and she tried so
hard. At one point she worked two and went to school. She took out a loan
and got a car and applied for--to let her do temp work in a suburb 30 miles
away because it paid more. And she was never able to--the only way she could
really work up to get a better wage was she needed more education, and she
couldn't pass her GED test. She tried three or four different times. She did
pass a computer course. She applied for more of a clerical job in medical
records; she didn't get it. And throughout this time she was getting raises
of--she would get semi-annual raises of 25 cents. One year she got a
semi-annual raise of 9 cents. Angie was--she was working about as hard as I
know of a person being able to work, and her lights were being cut off. She
was running out of food. She was going without health insurance. I just
can't imagine a woman working harder than Angie did, and yet she never really
was able to crack, say, the $10-an-hour barrier without getting more
education, and, you know, she couldn't do that.

DAVIES: My guest is writer Jason DeParle. His book on three women coping
with welfare reform is called "American Dream." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: My guest is Jason DeParle. His book is "American Dream: Three
Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare."

Well, one thing, of course, that was missing in most of these three women's
lives for most of the time that you looked at them was a stable, committed
father. And you've made the point that that's really a big missing piece;
that it takes a family to climb out of poverty. And it's very hard for a mom
on her own to do this. One of the men in your story, Ken Thigpen, becomes a
guy who decides to stick, in part, because his dad didn't stick. Tell us
about him. What made him different?

Mr. DePARLE: Everything in the book surprised me. Everything that happened
from this story for a decade went against the way I would have predicted it,
and this is a perfect example. Through most of the reporting, Ken was in
prison, and I hadn't even met him yet. But what I knew about him was that he
was a drug dealer, a violent guy and that he was also, well, you know, a pimp;
that he was running prostitutes and drugs while Jewell was initially dating
him. And then he got caught on a drug charge and went to prison for a couple
years. And the day he got released, I went and picked him up at the prison; I
took Jewell. The prison's a couple hours from Milwaukee, and we drove out
there to pick him up as he's coming out prison. There was nothing in his
record that suggested there was anything about him about to turn around. And
I figured within a few month he'd be back in jail; that was sort of his
pattern. Actually, he later told me he more or less figured the same thing.

And yet he got out of jail; this was more than four years ago. And, oh, it
was a classic scene, you know. He's out of jail for a couple of week.
Somebody comes by--one of his prison buddies comes by. He doesn't have a job,
he's frustrated he doesn't have any money, he can't get hired. A friend comes
by and drops off an ounce of cocaine, and it's like one of those
Saturday-morning cartoons. You know, there's a bird on each shoulder, you
know, `Take it.' `Don't take it. Don't.' And he just decides he's had
enough of prison after--he's almost 30 at this point. He's spent half his
adult life in prison. He gets rid of the cocaine, and he goes and eventually
becomes a pizza delivery man, which is what he's been doing for the last three
years, with no signs of going back to the street life at all. He's had a
son--he and Jewell had a son, kind of almost a miracle baby because, various
medical complications, they thought they were going to lose the pregnancy.

And Ken is, out of this whole circle, the rare guy who's stayed at home and
raised this kid. Jewell works in a nursing home in the mornings. Ken takes
care of Kevion. And she comes home from the nursing home, and he goes out and
does his pizza rounds at night.

DAVIES: And how does that fit in with the culture of the community around
them? How tough is it--him to be a--I mean, he's essentially a

Mr. DePARLE: God, here's the real sad part of the--you know, so I've just
told you the uplifting part of the story. Here's the sad part of the story.
People looked up to him more when he was selling drugs. Some of the kids in
the neighborhood, now they kind of mock him as though, `Pizza guy.' You know,
they looked up to him more when he was a--he used to be more fun when he was
selling drugs, they said. He had more money. He used to take them places.
Now look at him. So, again, the notion that we're going to--that work is
going to lift up the younger generation, that's another case in which it
hasn't played out.

DAVIES: That's usually...

Mr. DePARLE: He's got so much strength to be able to keep doing this as--you
know, one of the things I found with all the--with Ken and with Angie, how
little support they get sometimes when they're doing what we would call the
right thing: when they're leaving welfare and going to work; when he's
avoiding selling drugs and going to work--just how little emotional support.
Ken got a few--I wrote about him in The New York Times Magazine, and he got a
handful of letters afterwards and maybe a couple small checks. It wasn't, you
know, a lot. Frankly, I was hoping maybe something better would come his way.
But it meant so much to him.

He said--he told me never had--he was just stunned anybody would write him and
say--I mean, people wrote some nice things that--you know, `Glad you're taking
care of your son. You're doing the right thing.' It was totally outside his
frame of reference that somebody could read about him in a magazine and sit
down and write him. And he had ever had so little public affirmation, any
that--somebody would to tell him, `Hey, you're doing a good job,' that was
just outside his experience. He told me it was the best thing that had
happened to him since the birth of his son. You know, in two and a half
years, getting these letters was the best thing that had happened to him.

DAVIES: Now what do you think policymakers should learn from this? I mean,
you know, the Bush administration and people in Congress have begun to think
about this, how to encourage more two-parent families. And Bush is pushing, I
guess it's called, the Healthy Marriage program, right? It's kind of a public
information campaign designed to encourage marriage.

Mr. DePARLE: Well, there's a...

DAVIES: What's your sense of how much of this is worth pursuing? Does it
have an effect? Can it work?

Mr. DePARLE: I think quite a lot of it's worth pursuing. Of course, that
depends on what we mean by `it.' But what I mean is there's a--the welfare
law's being reconsidered by Congress now, and there's a provision in there
that would provide a billion and a half dollars over, I think, five years for
programs to promote healthy marriages. I'd like to see the definitions of
that expanded a little bit, so that it would include not just a kind of
counseling and public information campaign but also some employment skills,
some job efforts for--training for the guys. But I think that moving in the
direction of bringing the men back in the family has got to be the next
direction for public policy.

Nobody really knows how to do that. The employment programs for low-skilled
men have a discouraging record. But, you know, so did the employment programs
for low-skilled women for 20 years, until enough things were tried that people
figured out how to get women like Angie and Jewell into the work force and even
how to support them a little bit. So I view the male side of the equation
being where the female side was 20, 25 years ago, but it's the crucial next
direction to help low-income families.

DAVIES: Writer Jason DeParle. His book is called "American Dream: Three
Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare." He'll be back in the
second half of the show. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)


(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Coming up, we continue our conversation with Jason DeParle. He
followed three Milwaukee families on welfare for his new book, "American
Dream." Also, a review of the new album from sax players Von Freeman. TV
critic David Bianculli gives us a preview of the new fall lineup.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.

My guest, New York Times writer Jason DeParle, has covered poverty in America
for most of his career. His new book follows three women and their kids
coping with welfare reform. It's called "American Dream."

It sounds as if you think, you know, liberals who would mock welfare reform as
utterly ineffective and point to families that may have gotten jobs but never
made it out of poverty as evidence that this is all a misguided adventure.
Give us your sense. I mean, has this showed us that public policy can do some
things right?

Mr. DePARLE: Yeah, someone asked me, `Does the story you tell have hope?'
And I had to stop and think for a minute because, you know, it's a story of
people with wages garnished and lights turned out and kids getting pregnant in
high school and lots of setbacks. But I think it is, and I think it is for
two reasons. One, Angie and Jewell become workers against all expectation.
You know, that's a success for ...(unintelligible). It doesn't take them as
far as we had hoped, but it gets them--there's no solution to poverty without
them working. So it gets them a start, and it gives them a kind of civic
enfranchisement also. I mean, no one can say, `Hey, they're takers. Hey,
they're on the welfare rolls.' You know, they're now workers. They're now
part of the--they have moral claims on us in a way, I think, that they didn't
before. And so I feel hopeful about what they've achieved in that sense, and
I feel some hopefulness about what the country has achieved.

I started the poverty beat for The New York Times at the end of the Reagan
years. When I first started writing about these issues, it's a little hard to
conjure now just what an atmosphere of pessimism and defeat there was in the
field. Reagan had said, `We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won.' You
know, the notion was that, `There's nothing you can do to make the world
better for these people. Anything we do is doomed to failure.' And I think
the legacy of the '90s is that things did get a little better: Poverty rates
came down; employment rates rose dramatically. There's a debate about how
much of that was due to welfare reform and how much was due to the economy.
But, clearly, government policy was a big part of the solution, a big part of
what had happened. And I think it gives us all reason to believe in
anti-poverty policy again. There's no excuse for cheap cynicism anymore.

DAVIES: Opal Caples was a woman who--one of the women that you got to know
very well, I guess one of the first that you met. She actually appeared with
Governor Tommy Thompson at one point, I think, at an appearance, and it turned
out that she had a pretty serious drug-abuse issue. How did the welfare
system deal with that? I mean, clearly it's not an uncommon problem among the
welfare community. How well did the welfare reform system approach that
obstacle to upward mobility?

Mr. DePARLE: Astonishingly poorly. Milwaukee privatized the welfare system,
so there were five different private agencies in Milwaukee serving--they serve
six different districts. She was at three of the five agencies over a
three-year period. She had six caseworkers at three different agencies; none
of them ever figured out she was on drugs, even though it had been noted in
previous case files. At one point she had sold off all her furniture to buy
drugs, and she was out of food, and the kids were going to school dirty. And
she was so frightened and desperate, she walked into the welfare office at a
place called the Opportunities and Industrialization Center and begged to be
seen. And you now what the receptionist told her? `We don't take walk-ins.
Go home and make an appointment.'

DAVIES: Now this is, I guess, a reflection of the chaos that occurred when
Wisconsin handed so much of the case management over to private companies. I
mean, the idea was there were supposed to be smaller caseloads, and people
were going to manage clients' needs and not just hand out checks. Why did the
practice not meet up to the theory?

Mr. DePARLE: Yeah, that was one of the huge surprises of the book for me--was
what a bad job these private agencies had done. And I don't think it's a part
of the Wisconsin story that's widely known. You know, Wisconsin, you know,
won the biggest government award in the country for the efficiency of its
welfare system. And the surveys...

DAVIES: Was that the Innovation in Government Award at Harvard?

Mr. DePARLE: Yeah, it's an award given out by Harvard and the Ford
Foundation. There were two problems in the Wisconsin system. One was
financial. Opal, for most of her time, was with an agency called MAXIMUS.
It's actually a for-profit company, a welfare agency that trades on the New
York Stock Exchange actually. It's, you know, a large national company with
contracts in almost every state. And they took over the management of one of
these districts in Milwaukee. And part of what was dismaying about what they
did there was the waste of money. They spent at least a million, probably
more, of welfare dollars not on the client services but just on promoting
themselves, on burnishing the corporate image. They had run TV ads and bus
ads and billboards. They even printed up MAXIMUS golf balls, you know, for
all the golfers on the rolls. They spent $25,000 to bring in Melba Moore,
the fading Broadway star, to give a concert to clients. All this was meant to
kind of promote MAXIMUS as--burnish their image, make them seem like a--you
know, win publicity.

DAVIES: All of this charged to Wisconsin taxpayers?

Mr. DePARLE: Yes, out of welfare dollars, absolutely. Yeah. Some of that
eventually came out and became known, but I think what isn't known is just the
level of how little service the clients got in the program. At MAXIMUS, let's
see, one caseworker was arrested for soliciting kickbacks from clients;
another was quietly pushed out the door because women were complaining that he
was forcing them to have sex with him in order to get their benefits. At
least two of Opal's caseworkers were drug addicts; one of them wound up
getting arrested for financial--for passing bad checks and wound up on the
rolls herself. Another caseworker was quietly pushed out of the door after
impregnating a client.

I mean, this is not a big office. You know, this is not even--the head of the
office had his wife, his son, his niece, his mistress and his mistress' mother
all on the payroll. The number two in the office had her son on the payroll,
until he went to jail for murder--for reckless homicide. He ran over his
girlfriend's father and killed him. I mean, these were the service providers
in Wisconsin.

DAVIES: Well, if that's the performance of the people who were managing
cases, it makes you wonder what might have been achieved had this been done

Mr. DePARLE: Well, then--right. So we've gone from the money to the
managers, so here's the clients. So, you know, in three years on the system,
every--the ethos of the Wisconsin system was everyone was supposed to be
working. `If you couldn't get a job, we'd give you a community service
position.' So out of the whole MAXIMUS caseload--there was an internal
study--8 percent were working. This is in a program that billed itself as 100
percent work, billed itself to the Ford Foundation, to Harvard, to The New
York Times; said it's celebrated across the world as promoting and achieving
universal work. And 8 percent of the people were working.

DAVIES: Well, what were the other 92 percent doing? Were they--they simply
disappeared from the rolls or...

Mr. DePARLE: Yeah, I asked the head of the office. You know what he said?
He said, `What were they doing? I don't know what they were doing. They were
doing nothing,' which is what Opal was doing. She was sitting at home
doing--at one point she was in a crackhouse. She was literally living in a
crackhouse. They were sending her the checks at the crackhouse. She bought
more crack.

DAVIES: And she was allowed to get the check because--What?--she was believed
to have been working on a job or getting training or...

Mr. DePARLE: Oh, no. Just the bureaucracy was in such chaos, they didn't
know what--her caseworkers didn't know what she was doing. Plus, there was
huge case turnover within the caseload. So for months at a time she wouldn't
have a caseworker. The system would be on kind of automatic pilot. Then
she'd get a new one. Plus, Opal was pretty good at playing the
bureaucracy--you know, playing the system. They'd call her in for an
appointment, and then she wouldn't show up. And they'd send another letter,
you know, months later, and it just went on and on and on and on and on.

I don't want to sound like I'm picking on MAXIMUS because if it was just one
agency, I would think, `OK. Well, all right, there's one bad manager, there's
one bad example.' The thing is she was at three different agencies, and
exactly the same experience replicated at each one. The next one was
Goodwill, which, of course, has a, you know, sterling national image as a
non-profit service provider. And her caseworker there--I had taken Opal to
the dentist right before she met her caseworker. Opal had 10 teeth pulled.
I mean, Opal was a tragic case at this point. She's--her hair was literally
falling out, her teeth were falling out. She goes in to see this caseworker
and the caseworker gives her a few months to look for a job on her own and
sends her checks. So I eventually went to see the caseworker and said, `Why?'
Well, we--she said, `Well, Opal,' she said, `she looked good appearancewise.
She seemed like she had her home life in tact.' No, I don't know how she
could have known anything about her home life 'cause she had never visited her
at home. And, you know, as for looking good, she just--her hair was falling
out and she had 10 teeth pulled. It was astonishing they continued to neglect
her that way. And at the end, she lost her children.

DAVIES: So how is it that these private agencies brought in to manage this
got so little done?

Mr. DePARLE: Part of it also had to do with the financial structure of the
Wisconsin program. When they privatized to these agencies, they set up the
financing, you know, similar to an HMO in which they gave these private
agencies a set amount of money and said, `You manage this caseload.' So if
the caseload goes up, you lose money. If the caseload goes down, you make
money. The caseload went down so far so fast that the agencies just had a ton
of money. The catch was that the profits were capped at 7 percent of the
contract, so all the agencies immediately were going to make their target
profit. After that, there was no more financial incentive to continue to cut
the roles. It didn't matter to them whether Opal was on the roles or off the
roles. They were going to make their profits no matter what. So I think it
reduced a financial incentive for them to concentrate on the remaining cases.

DAVIES: Well, Jason DeParle, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. DePARLE: Thank you.

DAVIES: Writer Jason DeParle. His book is called "American Dream: Three
Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare."

Coming up, the best of the fall TV season. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Analysis: Fall season on television

Television's annual Emmy Awards were presented last night and the traditional
fall TV season begins tonight. TV critic David Bianculli has some thoughts
about both and pinpoints the new season's two best shows.


Before cable TV earned enough respect to be invited to the Emmy party, before
it crossed the 50-percent threshold of American TV homes, that industry threw
its own annual party: the Cable Ace Awards. Last night, cable did so well and
over-the-air broadcast networks so poorly, it was almost like watching the Ace
Awards all over again.

HBO's fabulous "Angels in America" swept the various categories in miniseries
and deserved every one--best actor and actress, supporting actor and actress,
best writer, best director. But even all the other nominees for best
miniseries and for best TV movie came from cable this year. The broadcast
networks didn't even compete in a category they used to own 20 years ago.

Today, the broadcast networks are more like disowned from Emmy competition.
Last night, if not for five measly shows from the big four networks, cable
would have won every single Emmy. NBC's "Frasier" won three acting awards,
but it's gone now. ABC's "The Practice" won three acting awards. It's gone
too, though winner James Spader will continue playing his character in a
spin-off series, "Boston Legal." NBC's "The West Wing" won for best actress,
thanks to Allison Janney. CBS got its only Emmy for a reality series, "The
Amazing Race." And the major award won by a broadcast network this year for
outstanding comedy was won by Fox--one of three Emmys given to its daring,
delightful "Arrested Development." Actually, a cable series, HBO's "Curb Your
Enthusiasm," should have won in that category.

But cable has no reason to complain, not when "The Daily Show," "The
Sopranos," "Deadwood," "Sex and the City," "Monk" and the telemovie "Something
The Lord Made" all got statuettes. "Angels in America" all by itself earned
more Emmys than CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox combined. That's astounding. For them,
it should be embarrassing.

Maybe that's why this TV season, more than ever, the broadcast networks are
adopting cable models to shape and launch their new shows. For years, HBO has
built the Sunday night franchise by running episodes of one series each week
without interruption like "The Sopranos," then replacing it with something else
given the same treatment like "Deadwood." This year, ABC is trying that with
"Alias," which won't return until after the new "Desperate Housewives" is over
and with "NYPD Blue," which starts an uninterrupted run tomorrow night that
will continue until it ends its final season in December. That's a good move,
very viewer friendly.

Another cable model the networks are adopting is the idea of launching new
shows outside of the competitive fall season. Cable used to do that for a
reason--to get noticed when the networks weren't hogging all the attention.
But now the networks are doing it. NBC launched its new season the day after
the Olympics ended, and Fox this year is in the midst of a four-tiered,
52-week schedule that has even TV critics totally baffled about what's what
and what's coming when. At Fox, all I know is that "24" isn't returning until

The abandonment of the unified fall season launch by most of the broadcasters
is immensely stupid. Most of their shows aren't strong enough to get attention
on their own, and spreading out the fall launch over several months only
dilutes what's left of the excitement. CBS and ABC seem to understand this
and are launching their new seasons this week. And the two best shows this
year come from ABC, a network that hasn't taken many chances lately. This
year, it's presenting two new dramas that are so good. Listen to this
compliment and everything it implies. They could have come from cable.

One of them is "Desperate Housewives," a prime-time soap with a great cast, a
mix of mystery and humor and a suburban snappiness that seems like equal parts
David Lynch, John Waters and "Melrose Place." I'll give that a fuller review
when it premieres next month, but keep an eye out for it. The one arriving
sooner, also on ABC, is called "Lost" and premieres Wednesday. One of its
creators is J.J. Abrams of "Alias," and "Lost" is even more dense and
unpredictable than that series. "Lost" is about a commercial airliner that
crashes way off course on a mysterious island. Eventually, the survivors have
to figure out not only why they crashed but where they are, what dangers lurk
in the jungle, why they're not being rescued and other major question marks.
We also learn about each character gradually through flashbacks, as well as
through their actions after the crash.

Matthew Fox from "Party of Five" is the first person we see on "Lost." He
plays a doctor and spends the beginning 12 minutes of the show tending to
others before taking time to tend to himself and a nasty gash in his side. He
takes a travel sewing kit and asks a dazed survivor walking b, played by
Evangeline Lilly to give him some stitches and close the wound.

(Soundbite from "Lost")

Ms. EVANGELINE LILLY: I might throw up on you.

Mr. MATTHEW FOX: You're doing fine.

Ms. LILLY: You don't seem afraid at all. I don't understand that.

Mr. FOX: Well, fear's sort of an odd thing. When I was in residency, my
first solo procedure was a spinal surgery on a 16-year-old kid, a girl. And
at the end, after 13 hours, I was closing her up and I accidentally ripped her
dural sac. It shredded the base of the spine where all the nerves come
together, membranes thin as tissue, and so it ripped open. The nerves just
spilled out everywhere like angel-hair pasta, spinal fluid flowing out of her
and the terror was just so crazy, so real and I knew I had to deal with it, so
I just made a choice. I'd let the fear in, let it take over, let it do its
thing, but only for five seconds. That's all I was going to give it. So I
started to count. One, two, three, four, five, and it was gone. I sewed her
up and she was fine.

Ms. LILLY: If that had been me, I think I would have run for the door.

Mr. FOX: No, I don't think that's true. You're not running now.

BIANCULLI: Believe me, though, she does some running later, so does everyone
else in a show that's loaded with twists and turns, that has the look of a
major motion picture and that more than any other has me waiting excitedly for
the second episode.

For most of the other new shows this fall, it's not even worth watching the
first episode, and you're likely to see that reflected next year once again at
the Emmys.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Coming up, a new album from saxophonist Von Freeman. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Von Freeman's new album "The Great Divide"

For most of his long career, Chicago tenor saxophonist Von Freeman has
resisted many attempts to lure him out onto the road. Freeman's now 81. He's
traveling a little more in recent years. In 2003, he went to New York to cut
a new album. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it was well worth the trip.

(Soundbite of "Disorder at the Border")


Von Freeman playing the blues, "Disorder at the Border" by Coleman Hawkins.
It's from Freeman's new CD "The Great Divide" on Premonition, a salute to his
forbearers, Hawkins, Lester Young and Charlie Parker. Freeman can caress a
ballad like Hawk, slur a note like Young or soar above the cords like Parker,
but Von doesn't sound like any of them. So the album really celebrates his
own puckered, sour, tenor sax and patented mix of tender whispers and
expressive bleeps. He sounds romantic, vulnerable and playful at the same

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Von Freeman usually records with colleagues from Chicago, which
has some very good rhythm sections. But New York has better ones, and it's
good to hear him in the Apple with peers drawn from Jimmy Cobbs'
sextet--drummer Cobb, bassist John Webber and ex-Chicago and partly trained by
Von and the too-little-heard pianist Richard Wyans. He sounds especially
simpatico with Freeman on the blues in any tempo.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Richard Wyans is having his own late career revival, but Von
Freeman is jazz's classic late bloomer. The first record under his name came
out when he was 40. He was 80 when he recorded "The Great Divide," one of a
few recent albums that show he's still got it and which feature one of his
lovely unaccompanied ballads. Here it's "Violets For Your Furs." Freeman is
revered in Chicago because he's loveable and has educated dozens of young
musicians. The city even named a stretch of 75th Street after him, but in the
end, it's the quality of the playing that counts and Von would be worth
cheering even if he stole candy from babies.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Kevin Whitehead writes for Downbeat and The Absolute Sound. He
reviewed "The Great Divide" by Von Freeman.


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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