Managing at the Margin: Families Moving off Welfare

By Braun, Bonnie; Bauer, Jean W. et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Managing at the Margin: Families Moving off Welfare


Braun, Bonnie, Bauer, Jean W., Olson, Patricia, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


ABSTRACT

The intent of this article is to engage members of our nprofession-in the classroom, the boardroom, and the community-in responses to welfare reform related to resource management. The article includes a brief background, some findings from initial research, and some ideas for action. The appropriateness of a human ecological perspective will be introduced. Members of the profession will be challenged to expand their role as the source and voice for families managing at the margins.

As the 19th century turned into the 20th century, living conditions for vast numbers of Americans left much to be desired. Whether newly arrived from overseas homelands, adjusting to freedom following the Civil War, coping with impacts of the industrial Revolution, or eking out a living on farms and ranches, families found themselves at the margins of the American dream of "the good life" and hard pressed to make ends meet. Amid these living conditions, our profession-- of-many-names was born. The focus on the interrelationship between individuals and the environments in which they interacted served as the basis for the work of the founding professionals and continues for many in the profession (Bubolz & Sontag, 1993).

Early on, the discipline of family economics and resource management emerged as a basis for teaching families how to obtain, maintain, and sustain their resource base. While all families needed to know how to wisely manage their resources, low-income families were particularly in need as they had fewer family resources and frequently less access to extended family, community, or government resources.

As the 20th century turns into the 21st, families continue to be challenged to acquire adequate resources to meet their basic needs. Many continue to five and manage resources at the margin. As recently as 1993, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) caseloads reached a high of 5.5% of the U.S. population on public assistance or welfare (DHHS, 1999).

The intent of this article is to engage members of our profession-in the classroom, the boardroom, and the community-in responses to welfare reform that will in turn affect family resources and to share findings from one study of households receiving food stamps. We suggest ways that many more of our colleagues can participate in the great experiment of welfare reform. We also provide a brief background, some findings from initial research; and some ideas for action.

BACKGROUND

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Pub. L. In No.104-193) changed "welfare as we've known it" to welfare as it will evolve to be. Drivers behind the federal legislation included: the desire to reduce the federal budget; the intent to shift decision making to states and localities; and the goal of making current welfare recipients "self-sufficient."

From a resource-management perspecfive, the law implies that families will have all the resources they need to avoid receiving public, or taxpayers', resources if they become employed-though most states provide subsidies to bridge initial gaps in income adequacy. The law requires that the head of the family gets and keeps a job. States vary in their approach to resource management as part of job training and the extent to which they share information regarding community resources. Somehow, families are assumed to be able to manage their time, balancing work and family demands, juggling transportation and child care challenges, their money, and other assets. Welfare reform is mostly focused on the short term-reducing caseloads by set quotas by 2002. Federal law limits support for obtaining a degree, though research shows advanced education will increase a household's income and increase the human capital upon which the long-term future of the family rests. While some level of subsidies are available to working households, numerous researchers and advocates question the likelihood that those families will be able to achieve and sustain self-sufficiency through low paying employment-the expected norm for those with minimal employment and family managerial skills.

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