Academic journal article Family Relations

Pathways of Youth Development in a Rural Trailer Park*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Pathways of Youth Development in a Rural Trailer Park*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Limited empirical documentation exists for the developmental pathways available to rural youth growing up in low-resource community settings. Drawing on ethnographic data, this article examines the developmental pathways experienced by youth in a rural trailer park. Findings reveal how various factors, some inherent to working poor class status and others unique to trailer park residence and small town community, challenge youth's access to a pathway offering broader life chances.

Key Words: mobile home parks, rural community, rural youth, working poor families, youth development.

I did things backwards. I had kids, then got married and then chose a career. I hope my kids do things the other way around.-Mother of two

I hope they can all find a job that will give them the income to support a family. I hope they finish school up to and including college. That they don't start a family until they're done [with school].-Father of four

These two parents, like parents in general, hope for a life that offers their children broader choices than they experienced. As parents they have made moves to secure such a life for their children. Both have achieved the status and stability of homeownership. Further, both reside in a small town-a residential setting long equated with all that is good about community for children (Hummon, 1990). Yet, for both parents, a hope of a brighter future for their children is potentially challenged by class factors and residential location, as these are working poor parents who call a trailer park home-a context they readily identify as "second best."

Despite the achievement ideology of American culture that motivates dreams of social mobility, in reality the vast majority of children in the United States grow up to reproduce the class status of their parents (MacLeod, 1996). Further, whereas a mobile home park offers affordable access to the American dream of homeownership, it comes with social and economic costs attached (Miller & Evko, 1985; Salamon & MacTavish, in press). Historically marginalized to the outskirts of town, mobile home parks have long been subjected to formal and informal stigmatization (Baker, 1997; Salamon & MacTavish). As home to a highly concentrated population of young, poor, and less educated residents (Meeks, 1995), the mobile home park has the potential to function as a rural version of an inner-city ghetto-a community context we know to narrow life chances for children and youth (Furstenberg, Cook, Eccles, Elder, & Samaroff, 1999; Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000).

Based on a field study using qualitative interviews and extensive observations of a small sample of youth in middle adolescence and their parents, this article examines the developmental pathways available to youth living in a rural trailer park. Findings are important for policymakers, program leaders, and practitioners as they reveal how various factors, some inherent to working poor family class status and others unique to trailer park residence and small town life, shape the capacity of youth to realize successful developmental outcomes.

Background

Community and Developmental Pathways

Renewed interest in the power of community to shape the developmental outcomes of children has swelled across various disciplines in recent decades (Leventhal & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Although researchers differ as to how much context matters, there is growing consensus that specific community traits, particularly deficiencies in trust, responsible role models, and shared norms are critical to shaping the developmental outcomes of youth (Furstenberg et al., 1999; Putnam, 2000; Sampson, 2001; Wilson, 1987). The importance of such traits is seen in the urban ghetto where the power of place to predict compromised development is strong. By concentrating lower income families in an area that socially and geographically reinforces both isolation from resources and opportunities important to children's development and exposure to risks that compromise development, the community effect of an urban ghetto is particularly pernicious (Furstenberg et al. …

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