Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Paternal Incarceration and the Housing Security of Urban Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Paternal Incarceration and the Housing Security of Urban Mothers

Article excerpt

Housing security has long been recognized as an integral component of the economic, physical, and emotional health and well-being of individuals and families (Bradley, Oliver, Richardson, & Slayter, 2001; Lee, Tyler, & Wright, 2010; Postmus, Severson, Berry, & Yoo, 2009). The lack of safe and stable housing is often viewed as an indicator of severe social exclusion, particularly for individuals vulnerable in other aspects of their lives (Lee et al., 2010). Children's schooling, the receipt of social services, treatment for medical conditions, and the search for employment are each facilitated by a stable home address (Bradley et al., 2001; Buckner, 2008; Rafferty, Shinn, & Weitzman, 2004).

Even in the absence of homelessness, hous- ing insecurity threatens grave consequences for health and well-being. Although federal guide- lines (42 U.S.C. § 11302) define homelessness as the lack of a "fixed regular, and adequate nighttime residence," researchers have noted that eviction, frequent moves, difficulty paying rent, doubling up, and living in overcrowded conditions represent "a manifestation of the same underlying relationship between hous- ing costs and household resources" (Honig & Filer, 1993) and threaten individual and fam- ily functioning (Gilman, Kawachi, Fitzmaurice, & Buka, 2003; Kushel, Gupta, Gee, & Haas, 2005; Ma, Gee, & Kushel, 2008; Reid, Vit- tinghoff, & Kushel, 2008; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2003). Crowded conditions and excessive residential mobility also have the potential to disrupt children's school attendance and performance (Cunningham, Harwood, & Hall, 2010; Goux & Maurin, 2005) and other aspects of family functioning.

We examined the risk of housing insecurity among a vulnerable population of growing inter- est to researchers and policymakers: families experiencing a father's incarceration. The sharp and unprecedented expansion of the correctional population in the past 40 years, combined with consistently high rates of fatherhood among incarcerated men, has led to an increasing num- ber of families with fathers in prison and jail. A growing literature has suggested that fathers' incarceration adversely affects their partners and children, including their economic and material well-being (Comfort, 2007; Geller, Garfinkel, & Western, 2011; Schwartz-Soicher, Geller, & Garfinkel, 2011). Although safe and stable hous- ing has the potential to enable family resilience to these challenges, these economic challenges conversely have the potential to undermine housing security, further destabilizing family life (Wildeman, 2013). Using data from a large longitudinal survey of urban families, we estimated the relationship between fathers' incarceration and mothers' housing insecurity, considering challenges ranging from relatively common occurrences, such as skipping a rent or mortgage payment, to more disruptive hard- ships, such as eviction or homelessness. To the extent that fathers' incarceration increases such instability, their partners and children may require specialized attention by social service providers.

HYPOTHESIZED RELATIONSHIPS

There are a number of reasons to expect that fathers' incarceration might compromise the housing security of their families. When fathers reside with their children, incarceration removes them from the household and incapacitates them from the labor market, depriving their families of a potential source of income. Even fathers who do not live with their children often contribute financially in the form of child support (Geller et al., 2011; Nepomnyaschy & Garfinkel, 2007), visit with their children (Geller, 2013), and maintain involvement in their lives and day- to-day routines (Swisher & Waller, 2008; Tach, Mincy, & Edin, 2010). Travis, McBride, and Solomon (2005) noted that 68% of incarcerated fathers had provided the primary source of income to their families. Incarceration not only limits these contributions but also threatens the earning power of remaining family members, who may sacrifice work time to perform tasks previously done by the incarcerated father (Lynch & Sabol, 2004) or struggle to cover expenses associated with his incarceration, such as legal representation or maintaining contact through phone calls and visits (Comfort, 2008). …

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