BOOKS: PAIN, NO GAIN

A WELFARE MOM'S GRIM TALE OFFERS NO SOLUTIONS

The debate over welfare reform has divided Americans between those who consider recipients to be hapless victims and those who see them as shiftless parasites. Washington Post reporter Leon Dash's Rosa Lee: A Mother and Her Family in Urban America (HarperCollins; 279 pages; $23) gives both sides powerful evidence to support their position. It will also leave fair-minded readers in both camps equally discomfited.

Based on a 1994 series that won Dash the Pulitzer Prize, Rosa Lee is an unflinching portrait of underclass pathology in Washington's ghetto. The protagonist, Rosa Lee Cunningham, was a 57-year-old chronic welfare recipient, petty thief, drug...

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