Jobs Aren't Enough: Toward a New Economic Mobility for Low-Income Families

By Roberta Rehner Iversen; Annie Laurie Armstrong | Go to book overview

3 The Parents
Their Backgrounds, Lives, and Locations

“Never Give Up”

Never give up on your dreams.

Times are hard sometimes; I want to scream.

Just hang in there and tough it out.

You know, that is what it's all about.

Keep your faith and you will see,

You can be what you want to be.

Stay in school no matter what you do.

You are the prizewinner so keep your head cool.

Never give up, no matter how hard the ride seems.

Never give up on your dreams.

Written by Rachel Quinn, New Orleans


WHO ARE THE PARENTS IN THIS BOOK?

The section under “The Story,” which opens Chapter 1, provides a broad brush of who the parents are in this book. More detailed information about them in this chapter sets the stage for learning how their intersections with other social institutions forward or constrain their goal of economic mobility. We first ask: are the parents in this book unique or are they similar to other low-income working parents in the United States today? In fact we find that on selected characteristics that are believed to influence economic mobility, the twenty-five key parents seem very similar to millions of other low-income working parents across the country. The chapter then looks more intensively at these characteristics at the time the parents enter a job training program1: specifically, their age, gender, racial or ethnic background, family composition, education, public assistance, work supports, work history, assets, and health. We also examine how these characteristics change over our years of contact with the families.

The second part of the chapter looks at economic mobility in terms of prevailing economic and labor market conditions and the housing environment of the families in each of the five cities: Milwaukee, New Orleans, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Seattle. Does “place” matter to the families' experiences and outcomes? Is place determinative? We find that place plays a role in the particular ways a family experiences poverty and mobility, which in turn has implications for the design and implementation of policies and programs at the local level. We ultimately conclude that family mobility outcomes are affected more deeply and pervasively by national economic trends and characteristics of the low-wage labor market.

Table 3.1 gives an overview of the twenty-five key parents and how they compare on selected characteristics to three groups: (1) all adults placed in or locating

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