Mothers' Work and Children's Lives: Low-Income Families after Welfare Reform

Mothers' Work and Children's Lives: Low-Income Families after Welfare Reform

Mothers' Work and Children's Lives: Low-Income Families after Welfare Reform

Mothers' Work and Children's Lives: Low-Income Families after Welfare Reform

Synopsis

This book examines the effects of work requirements imposed by welfare reform on low-income women and their families. The authors pay particular attention to the nature of work, whether it is stable or unstable, the number of hours worked in a week, and regularity and flexibility of work schedules. They also show how these factors make it more difficult for low-income women to balance work and family requirements.

Excerpt

In December 1994, as the welfare reform bill was working its way through Congress, Jason DeParle, author of American Dream (2004) and longtime New York Times poverty reporter, wrote an article for the New York Times Sunday Magazine about a single mother of four juggling a low-wage job, poverty, and the daily strain of life on the margins (DeParle 1994). It was a prescient profile in many ways.

Mary Ann Moore, at age 33, was proud of herself. Although she’d had her first child as a teenager and spent the next 14 years on and off welfare, she was now on the right road. Every day, hours before the sun rose, she would drag herself off the couch that served as her bed, roust her kids, feed and dress them, and pile them into their beater of a car to drive the 11 miles to her mother’s home. The children grew accustomed to the routine. After kissing them goodbye at her mother’s apartment, Moore would head to her job in the kitchen at a homeless shelter, clocking in at 6:00 a.m. There she worked hard, putting in 52 hours a week, feeding 100 homeless people each day, and sometimes clocking two 13-hour shifts per week. Her toil barely paid the bills, but she felt better working than receiving welfare.

The story of Moore’s life was, to many, a tale of the American way: work hard, take responsibility for yourself, be a role model for your children. Moore was doing that in spades.

Moore was also the vision policymakers in Washington in the early 1990s had for all women relying on welfare. As Bill Clinton himself said in the run-up to reform, “Work organizes life. It gives structure and discipline to life … It gives a role model to children.” He was thinking then of Lillie Harden, a former welfare recipient in Arkansas who, when asked what she liked best about being off welfare, had said, “When my boy goes to school and they say, ‘What does your mama do for a living?’ he can give them an answer” (Safire 1997; U.S. Government Printing Office 1997).

When DeParle’s story went to print in 1994, the rumbles of welfare reform were picking up steam. Although a number of important . . .

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