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

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

4 The Children
Their Lives and Worlds

I hope they are well brought up. Not disrespectful. Okay, that's not in the street.
Like getting locked up, because that's what happens most of the time here. What
I want for my kids is that they grow up, get an honest job, and have a family. It
doesn't have to be a job that they make a lot of money. I do tell them, you like to
have that, you want this, you want that, so for that, you have to work you know
you have to study. —Aida Gomez, Philadelphia


WHO ARE THE CHILDREN HERE?

Accompanying the sixty-six resident children in this book to school, church, and family outings we see their lives from many vantage points. Talking to principals, teachers, family members, pastors, caregivers, and others we experience the children's challenges and successes. We hear their dreams about the future, aware that for some the distance between the two is lengthened by participation in underfunded schools and lack of access to affordable quality child care and after-school programs. We marvel at the children who stay afloat amidst environmental turmoil that could topple even the most seaworthy adult.

The children span a broad age spectrum, although many are very young. We see infants and preschool children adjust to busy days, waking early so that their parents can get to work, sometimes receiving care that does little to stretch their imaginations, minds, or worlds. We visit the elementary schools children attend, a few excellent but many with too few books and overburdened teachers, seeing firsthand what happens when children need far more than they receive. We see middle school children deal with normal albeit difficult transitions, some increasingly aware of things they want that parents cannot get. We see secondary school children shepherd young siblings, some managing both jobs and school. We see too many children with too few carefree moments, much of their lives witness to their families' struggles to secure the most basic of material resources. We see children of all ages, though proud of their parent's achievements, developing a view of work as something over which one prevails rather than as something to which one aspires. We see that celebrating the resilience of children, though inspirational, poses a false security and comes at a cost.

As we considered how to examine children's well-being in the context of ethnography, we found that prosocial indicators were limited in large surveys of children, especially those conducted among adolescents (Hauser, Brown, & Prosser, 1997). We also found formal measures of child well-being too clinical for the purposes of our study, as have other researchers (West, Hauser, & Scanlan, 1998). As a result, we look at aspects of child well-being used commonly in child development and

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