Academic journal article Family Relations

The Role of Workplace Support in Facilitating Self-Sufficiency among Single Mothers on Welfare

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Role of Workplace Support in Facilitating Self-Sufficiency among Single Mothers on Welfare

Article excerpt

The structure and nature of the labor market in the United States have changed dramatically in recent years. Compared to the ever-declining stock of manufacturing jobs, the growing service sector is more likely to offer part-time, temporary, and low-wage employment. U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich recently reported that 90% of new positions were part-time jobs, averaging 27 hours per week (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 1993).

Women are disproportionately affected by these employment trends. Economists at the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) recently documented that women are the majority of involuntary part-time workers and two thirds of temporary workers. About two thirds of minimum wage workers are women, and the percentage of women employed in low-wage jobs increased from 15% to 21% between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s (Spalter-Roth & Hartmann, 1992).

Despite the fact that the number of women in low-wage employment has increased in recent years, much of the research examining the stresses of balancing work and family responsibilities has focused on professional and/or higher wage earning women in the workforce. A few studies have utilized samples of blue-collar working wives (Bromet, Dew, & Parkinson, 1990) or included working-class single mothers in their surveys (Burris, 1991; Campbell & Moen, 1992; Greenberger, Goldberg, Hamill, O'Neil, & Payne, 1989). Nonetheless, despite the fact that about 40% of single mothers on welfare are employed part-time (Spalter-Roth, Hartmann, & Andrews, 1992), very little attention has been given to the role of supportive workplaces in the lives of women on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

Single mothers on welfare are also underrepresented in the economic stress literature. Studies of families in economic stress have often examined the lives of married couples (Conger et al., 1990; Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1989) or middle-class women experiencing relatively short-term economic disadvantages (Downey & Moen, 1987; Mauldin, Rudd, & Stafford, 1990). The relevance of these findings for single mothers who are culturally diverse, poorly educated, and/or dependent on public assistance is questionable. Moreover, research that has studied the latter populations has tended to be small scale, qualitative, and conducted over a relatively short time (Belle, 1982; Edin, 1991; Popkin, 1990; Stack, 1974).


Both family and welfare scholars have noted the lack of integration in research on unemployment, structural inequality, and families in poverty (Ellwood, 1989; Voydanoff, 1990). As particular disciplines apply their own dominant theoretical paradigms and methodologies, studies tend to develop a micro orientation focused on individual characteristics, or a macro perspective accounting for constraints in larger social systems. Few studies attempt to untangle the relative contributions of individual, family, and structural variables on poverty and welfare reliance.

This study addressed shortcomings in the literature by exploring a model that integrated human capital, family resource, employment, and psychosocial factors to analyze the transition of single mothers on public assistance to economic self-sufficiency (ESS). The integrated approach was facilitated by the use of a conceptual model adapted from stress theory (Pearlin, Lieberman, Menaghan, & Mullan, 1981). By focusing on an income-based economic outcome, the study sought to extend the utility of stress models beyond traditional applications that have examined noneconomic aspects of individual or family well-being.

Building upon previous work exploring the degree to which coping resources and behaviors affect the experience of economic stress (Voydanoff & Donnelly, 1989), the model posited that personal control and social support (as psychological and social coping resources) would mediate the relationship between reliance on welfare as a source of income and a variety of human capital, family resource, and employment factors. …

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