Working after Welfare: How Women Balance Jobs and Family in the Wake of Welfare Reform

By Kristin S. Seefeldt | Go to book overview

6
Challenges to Advancement among
Former Welfare Recipients

“A job, a better job, a career …” The catchphrase of Michigan's Work First program implies that once welfare recipients gain a toehold on the employment ladder and continue to accumulate work experience, their wages will rise and their jobs will be better. However, the appropriateness of this metaphor in summing up welfare recipients' employment trajectories is open to question. Research like the WES demonstrates that many welfare recipients have significant and sometimes multiple barriers to employment. The more such challenges a recipient has, the less likely she is to work at all, let alone climb the rungs of the employment ladder. While a good number of recipients do work, as we see in Chapter 2, much of that employment is unsteady, perhaps disrupting their wage progression. Even among those who are employed steadily, not all experience wage growth; recall that about a quarter of the WES sample stayed in “poverty-wage jobs” over the entire survey period or were in them at the end (see Table 3.3).

However, the conceptual models of welfare recipients' employment paths and of the influential factors leave out one very important consideration: the calculations that women themselves make when thinking about what jobs to take. As we see in the previous chapter, the characteristics that women believe make a job good or bad go far beyond the pay and benefits. In order to obtain more insight into the decisionmaking process around employment and advancement, I again look to the qualitative interview data, examining the following questions: 1) How do women perceive their own opportunities for and challenges to employment advancement? 2) What do they think about the place of education and training as it relates to upward mobility? 3) What role do family responsibilities play in women's decisions about when to take new jobs and when to participate in educational programs?

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