Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Added Value of Religion in Poverty-to-Work Programs: A Framework for Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

The Added Value of Religion in Poverty-to-Work Programs: A Framework for Analysis

Article excerpt

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. …

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