Tery Laughlin looked for all the world like a welfare-reform success story. A 24-year-old mother of three, she progressed smartly through a series of work experience programs. In November 1997, she landed a public-sector job as a receptionist and data-entry clerk. Motivated and sharp, she impressed her supervisors and became active in community affairs, emerging as a candidate for he mayor's welfare-reform board.
Things appeared to be looking up, but Laughlin was wearing down. When her children (who range from one to four years old) got sick, she had to stay home with them. Her son's nursery school closed at noon several times this spring because of snowstorms, forcing her to take afternoons off. Laughlin made the daily journey from home to day care to work on the buss; when busses were late, so was she