Work-Family Challenges for Low-Income Parents and Their Children

Work-Family Challenges for Low-Income Parents and Their Children

Work-Family Challenges for Low-Income Parents and Their Children

Work-Family Challenges for Low-Income Parents and Their Children


The area of work and family is a hot topic in the social sciences and appeals to scholars in a wide range of disciplines. There are few edited volumes in this area, however, and this may be the only one that focuses on low-income families-a particularly important group in this era of welfare-to-work policy. Interdisciplinary in nature, the volume brings together contributors from the fields of psychology, social work, sociology, demography, economics, human development and family studies, and public policy. It presents important work-family topics from the point of view of low-income families at a time in history when welfare to work programs have become standard. Divided into four parts, each section addresses a different aspect of the topic, consisting of a big picture lead essay which is followed by three papers that critique, extend, and supplement the final paper. Many of the chapters address important social policy issues, giving the volume an applied focus which will make it of interest to many groups. Serving to organize the volume, these issues and others have been encapsulated into four sets of anchor questions: How has the availability, content, and stability of the jobs available for the working poor changed in recent decades? How do work circumstances for low-income families vary as a function of gender, family structure, race, ethnicity, and geography? What implications do these changes have for the widening inequality between the haves and have-nots? What features of work timing matter for families? What do we know about the impacts of shift work, long hours, seasonal work, and temporary work on employees, their family relationships, and their children's development? How are the child care needs of low-income families being met? What challenges do these families face with regard to child care, and how can child-care services be strengthened to support parents and to enhance child development? How are the challenges of managing work and family experienced by low-income men and women? The primary audience for the book is academicians and their students, policy specialists, and people charged with developing and evaluating family-focused programs. The volume will be appropriate for classroom use in upper-level undergraduate courses and graduate courses in the fields of family sociology, demography, human development and family studies, women's studies, labor studies, and social work.


The recent welfare legislation that has pushed many single mothers into the paid labor force has sparked renewed interest in and debate about the plight of lowincome and working poor families in the United States today. Much of the extant research on work and family issues has focused on middle-class and professional families, often families with two breadwinners. Much less is known about how low-income and working poor families, many of whom are single-parent families, navigate work and family and manage these often-conflicting roles and responsibilities. The challenges are particularly daunting for the parents of young children. Often young themselves and lacking in job-related skills and job seniority, these mothers and fathers must not only find jobs that support their families, but also must make affordable child care arrangements.

As the chapters in this book attest, existing policies and programs are not always designed to meet the needs of low-income and working poor families. A careful examination of these issues also reveals some important trade-offs that merit closer attention by policy makers. For example, welfare regulations that increase mothers' human and social capital may have hidden costs for children, especially adolescents, who may find themselves caring for younger siblings and having to forego after-school activities. Another trade-off is that longer work hours may make it difficult for mothers to enroll their children in Head Start, the subsidized child care program that has emphasized quality of care and sought to enhance children's health, development, and school readiness. Head Start, as presently configured, is often offered as a partial day and/or partial year program, scheduling that does not dovetail with the schedules of many working parents. The chapters in this volume, written by a distinguished array of researchers representing multiple disciplines and at the top of their fields, explore these important and timely issues as well as others.

This volume is based on the presentations and discussions from a national symposium on “Work-Family Challenges for Low-Income Parents and their Children“, held at the Pennsylvania State University on October 10–11, 2003, as the tenth in a series of annual interdisciplinary symposia focused on family issues. The book is divided into four sections, each dealing with a different aspect of the topic. Each section includes a chapter by the lead author(s), followed by shorter chapters by discussants.

In the first section of the volume, Jared Bernstein, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, sets the stage for the entire volume by looking at the big economic picture. He analyzes how the availability, content, and stability of jobs for the working poor have changed in recent decades and discusses the implications of these changes for the widening inequality between haves and have-nots. In separate chapters, sociologist Paula England (Northwestern University) and demographers Lynne Casper and Rosalind King, both at the National Institute of Child Health and Human . . .

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