Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families

Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families

Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families

Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families


In this gripping ethnographic account, Roberta Iversen and Annie Laurie Armstrong examine the obstacles to economic mobility for low- and increasingly middle-income families in 21st century America. The 'voices' of twenty-five families in Milwaukee, New Orleans, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle and of hundreds of people who are linked to the families' lives, show that the historic myths about opportunity, merit, and 'bootstraps' are outdated and, in some cases, downright dangerous for many urban workers and their families. Iversen and Armstrong show that the social institutions of family, education, labour market and policy all intersect to influence mobility. Jobs Aren't Enoughproposes a new mobility paradigm grounded in cooperation, collaboration, mutuality and revitalization of the 'public will' to maximize both "household and profit."


Susan Gewirtz, Annie E. Casey Foundation

More than one out of four American working families (9.2 million families) now earn wages so low that they have difficulty surviving financially and providing a secure future for their families. Twenty million children live in these families (Waldron, Roberts, & Reamer, 2004). As stated in our 2005 kids count Data Book essay, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has “long believed that the most powerful approach to altering the future of our nation's most disadvantaged kids is to enhance the financial security of their parents in the present” (Annie E. Casey Foundation, p. 5). At the same time, there has been growing media and scholarly attention to the changing economy due to globalization, demand for workers with higher skills, decreasing wage mobility at the lower end of the wage scale, and the increasing percentage of jobs that do not offer health benefits or paid sick leave. and although there is a sense of growing insecurity even among middle-class workers, low-wage workers and their families are particularly vulnerable to these labor market forces. Recent publications have chronicled the struggle of longterm welfare recipients to join the mainstream economy and the challenges facing workers who work at jobs that pay the minimum wage.

In 1998, when the research described in this book was begun, there was considerable and important research being initiated related to the impacts of welfare reform on families and on the effectiveness of welfare-to-work programs. the families in the Casey Foundation's multicity, multiyear Jobs Initiative include adults who have been on welfare, but also those with a long history in the low-wage labor market, men and women returning from incarceration, single-parent families, and two-parent working families. the Annie E. Casey Foundation, through its grant-making strategy related to connecting adults to good entry-level jobs with career paths, was particularly interested in learning more about the intersection of employment training, family, work, and community. With its Jobs Initiative as the setting, the Casey Foundation supported in-depth ethnographic research to help understand family economic mobility, the impacts of adult employment on children's lives, and the ways working families connect with their communities. the research that started in two cities, Milwaukee and Seattle, soon led to an expanded research study in all five demonstration sites with twenty-five families.

Jobs Aren't Enough places the twenty-five families of this research squarely in the context of low-wage workers across the United States who are struggling to get ahead, meet the needs of their children, and find a workable balance among the many demands on their lives. the families in this book were motivated to seek out employment and training programs, to work full time, and were generally placed in or hired by firms that offered health-care benefits. the starting wage for participants in the Jobs Initiative averages $9.41 per hour (personal communication, Metis . . .

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