Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Transition of Female Family Heads of Household from Welfare to Work: Implications for Adult Education

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Transition of Female Family Heads of Household from Welfare to Work: Implications for Adult Education

Article excerpt


Over the last several years, the impact of the dramatic changes in the configurations of the American family has been at the forefront of our nation's political debate. The contemporary family, cast in formulations never dreamt of 30 to 50 years ago--e.g., hybrid or mixed families, single-parent families, grandparent-headed families, and others--presents new challenges for business leaders and government policymakers. Some of the primary factors that energize this debate relate to the alteration in women's roles and status along with their growing presence in the work force (Evers-Williams, 1996; Amott & Matthaei, 1991). Further, structural economic realignments have increased the vulnerability of poor, urban families and add to this polemic. Shifts from goods-producing to service oriented markets and the technological revolution that has marginalized the unskilled and uneducated, makes the poor, American family situation more tenuous.

Adult educators continue to keep a vigilant eye on these critical issues because they recognize the inextricable link between their work, the workplace, welfare reform, and the economic mobility of poor families. These interwoven issues have engaged the attention of adult educators who have been mostly waiting on the sidelines to see how the reform plays out. Nonetheless, the reform process, in full motion for three years (1996 marked the enactment of the landmark reform bill) is central in reshaping the context for and quality of life among many families headed by poor, black females.

The dramatic rise in female-headed families, as an outgrowth of a number of factors including spiraling, out-of-wedlock births and teenage pregnancies, has been widely reported. Growth in this household type is seen as a culprit in the catastrophic proportions of welfare dependency. Current data show that public assistance to support welfare dependents now touches the lives of over 14 million persons in the United States (Evers-Williams, 1996). Of these, about 95 percent of adults on welfare are single mothers (de la Cruz, 1996), 56 percent of whom live in central cities. Another 25 percent, reports the General Accounting Office (1995), live in the suburbs and 19 percent live in rural areas. Records from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1994) indicate that though African Americans do not constitute the majority of public welfare recipients, they are disproportionately represented on the welfare rolls (whites 38.8%; blacks 37.2%. This imbalance is also reflected in the data pertaining to single-parent households (Cahn, 1997). These data suggest that those concerned about reducing these numbers and making these particular women work-ready would factor adult education into the critical dialog related to welfare reform.

Understandably, there is much concern in adult education policy circles about the passage and aftermath of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA), i.e., welfare reform. This act was purportedly designed to assist welfare recipients in earning their way out of poverty by transitioning from welfare to work. The reform specified three critical provisos that include: 1) changing AFDC from an entitlement to a block grant, 2) requiring AFDC recipients to seek employment as part of the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) program and 3) stipulating five-year term limits on federally-funded assistance for any individual. For the most part, adult education was removed or at least diminished in its significance in the process of preparing welfare recipients to work (Nolan, 1999).

Adult educators recognized the new law's failure to offer sufficient means for the educational enhancement of these (i.e., welfare recipients) unskilled workers as a critical omission. This deficiency was viewed by many adult educators as undermining the intent of the bill by disallowing the means and opportunities for the workers to accrue the skills and problem-solving techniques to qualify them for jobs with remuneration sufficient to adequately care for their children. …

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