The Added Value of Religion in Poverty-to-Work Programs: A Framework for Analysis
Lockhart, William, Journal of Markets & Morality
What is the advantage of faith in "faith-based" poverty-to-work programs? My qualitative, field research sought to determine the key distinctions between faith-based and secular programs by comparing three "faith-saturated" programs with three secular programs: one run by a reorganized governmental agency, another by a for-profit business, and a third by a secular, non-profit organization. Although the faith-saturated programs suffered somewhat financially without governmental funds, their religious nature affected the social capital, cultural capital, and the internal status provided by these programs. More research is needed to clarify and to quantify how these resources have an effect upon the future employment of their clients or the stability of the programs. Key contextual factors also need to be taken into account.
"Charitable Choice," an effort to involve more faith-based organizations in providing social services, was inaugurated in the 1996 welfare reform bill signed by President Clinton and has been expanded under the "faith-based and community initiative" of President George W. Bush. (1) Faith-based programs have been asserted as being more compassionate, effective, and efficient than secular programs, yet there have been few scholarly comparisons of such programs, and most say that their work is preliminary. (2)
This article creates a framework for analyzing faith-based and secular poverty-to-work programs and for finding what extra-value, faith-based programs provide. This framework is based upon my qualitative, field research of six poverty-to-work programs--three of which were secular and three of which were "faith-saturated." As described below, "faith-saturated" programs seek to incorporate religious ideas and values into all aspects of the programming. Thus, they present a potentially sharp contrast to secular programs, highlighting where faith makes a difference.
The bulk of this study describes five, different resources provided by both secular and faith-based poverty-to-work programs. This study does not analyze how the program clients received or utilized these resources nor how effective these programs are in helping the clients make the transition from jobless poverty to employment. The focus here is on clarifying where there may be differences in the provision of resources between faith-based and secular programs. Since a description of these resources involves reference to scholarly papers, the surveys of the relevant literatures are incorporated in my discussion of the analytical framework. Prior to that discussion, I present my six research sites and my process of gathering data. I then present the analytical framework. In the concluding section, I describe limitations of my framework, including a necessary discussion of contextual factors.
Qualitative Research of Poverty-to-Work Programs
This article is part of a larger, exploratory research project comparing faith-based and secular poverty-to-work programs. (3) During the field research phase, occurring from the summer of 1999 to January 2001, I comparatively investigated six poverty-to-work programs. To control for community effects, I restricted my research to two, medium-sized cities in the southeastern United States. In the first city, two secular programs were chosen; the third was explicitly faith-based. In the second city, two explicitly faith-based programs were chosen; the third was secular. Table 1 lists these research sites by program religiosity, organizational affiliation, and clients served. (4)
My comparative field research involved field observations and the examination of curricula used by these programs. At one site I was also a participant observer, taking the role of a volunteer mentor. I also engaged in semi-structured, in-depth, confidential interviews with program directors, clients, volunteers, and staff persons at the six sites. These interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. Analysis of data was assisted by QSR's "N4" software for non-uniform data.
I chose three, secular research sites to represent the three, main, organizational structures that support secular programs: a redeveloped governmental agency, a secular non-profit organization, and a secular for-profit organization. Monsma and Mount's 2002 survey of welfare-to-work programs in four major cities found that 25 percent of all welfare-to-work programs were run by governmental organizations, 45.8 percent by secular non-profits, and 5.2 percent by for-profit organizations. (5)
To bring into sharp contrast with the secular programs any differences that religion makes in poverty-to-work programs, I chose three, explicitly religious programs run by independent 501(c) (3) organizations with interdenominational Protestant boards. Of the three explicitly religious programs that I investigated, one organization was a joint venture of two mainline churches; a second was created through a coalition of evangelical and traditionally black churches; the third included mainline, traditionally black and Pentecostal churches in its board and staffing. Due to their interdenominational character, I would not describe these programs as being "pervasively sectarian." However, one might describe them as being "pervasively religious," because explicitly religious themes were incorporated in nearly all their activities.
One of these programs is being replicated across the nation with twenty-seven affiliates at this point and more to come with the encouragement of a new federal partnership. (6) These faith-based programs would be described by Monsma and Mounts as "integrated" because they incorporated religious elements in their programming, such as prayer and Bible study. Monsma and Mounts found that 9.6 percent of all welfare-to-work programs were of this nature. (7)
The religious programs that I chose are not typical of all faith-based, social service programs but, rather, represent the most-explicitly religious programs. As scholars are beginning to note, not all "faith-based" programs are equally religious. (8) Monsma and Mounts found that 14.4 percent of welfare-to-work programs were what they described as "faith-based/segmented." These programs were run by faith-based organizations, but religious elements were not integrated into their programming. (9)
Built upon the research typology developed by Sider and Unruh, (10) the "Working Group on Human Needs and Faith-Based and Community Initiatives" has developed a new consensus, six-step typology of faith-based programs ranging from "faith-saturated" to "secular" with "faith-centered," "faith-related," "faith-background," and "secular-faith partnerships" in between. (11) The typology focuses both on organizational and program features, with a note that "faith-centered" organizations may sponsor "faith-background" or even "secular" programs.
Using their terminology, the faith-based programs that I visited would be considered "faith-saturated" because they incorporated many religious practices in their efforts, such as prayer, worship, and Bible study, and these practices were required of participants. However, they were more like "faith-centered" than "faith-saturated" in that the staff and volunteers expressed more of a "strong hope for religious change and belief that such change significantly contributes to desired outcome" rather than "expectation of religious change and belief that such change is essential to desired outcome [emphasis added]." As one FBO board member told me, "Conversions are nice, but not required." I will discuss religious change later.
The secular programs that I investigated were not founded by religious organizations, nor were religious elements found in their mission statements or programming. Although the non-profit organization received donations from religious groups, the bulk of its funds and that of the other organizations came from governmental sources.
Of the three, explicitly religious, faith-based programs that I chose to investigate, one program has not applied for governmental funds and a second program received state funds for one year and then decided to no longer apply for state funds due to "the excessive paperwork required." The third was awarded a federal grant, but before the funds were spent, the grant was taken away when the federal agency looked again at the application and realized that the religious activities were incorporated in the programming. (This was prior to administrative changes issued under Bush's Faith-Based and Community Initiative.) Repeatedly, the leaders in all three programs stated to me that they would do (and have done) without governmental funds rather than remove the religious elements from their programs. The leaders also expressed how valuable the religious faith of staff and volunteers was to the effectiveness of the programs. What, then, is so important about religious elements?
The term poverty-to-work includes programs working with the homeless, delinquent child-support providers, other low-income persons, as well as welfare recipients in efforts to help the clients leave poverty by the means of employment. In 1996 the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program replaced the New Deal-era Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and, in doing so, nationalized a growing federal trend in promoting employment in federal programs for the poor. (12)
All the programs that I investigated had a strong focus on enabling their clients to better gain and keep decent employment. Employment was assumed to be essential (although not always sufficient) for escaping long-term poverty and gaining economic self-sufficiency. These programs do not create jobs but assume that there were at least some decent employment possibilities available for their clients in an occupational field that they might enjoy. This problematic assumption was questioned by a staff person at one site. When I probed interviewees about this assumption, the response was often variations of this one expressed by one program …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The Added Value of Religion in Poverty-to-Work Programs: A Framework for Analysis. Contributors: Lockhart, William - Author. Journal title: Journal of Markets & Morality. Volume: 6. Issue: 2 Publication date: Fall 2003. Page number: 497+. © 2007 Acton Institute. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.