Women in the American Welfare Trap

By Catherine Pélissier Kingfisher | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
The Welfare Trap I: Recipients

I bust my ass trying to get off ((welfare)). ( Susan Harrison)

The 79 recipients I worked with can be divided into two groups, reflecting the women's differing degrees of involvement with welfare rights and in the study. I spent the most time with (and thus focus my analysis on) 16 women, 6 of whom were core members of either the Madrid Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) or Low Income People for Equality (LIFE). The second group of recipients consists of 24 occasional welfare rights participants and 39 recipients I encountered at the Kenyon County welfare office.

I conducted in-depth interviews with 12 of the 16 key participants; these interviews are the focus of this chapter. The 12 women ranged in age from 19 to 48 and had at least one child each (see Appendix B, Table B1). Eight of them had been married, and three had been married more than once. Three were presently living with men who contributed to household expenses. All of them were Anglo and heterosexual.

The women had both enduring and sporadic relationships with the Department of Social Services. Half of them had received public assistance continuously, for periods ranging from 18 months to 10 years. Maggie Fletcher, for instance, had been on AFDC for three years prior to entering graduate school, while Jody Dix on had been an AFDC mother for the nine years since her divorce. The remaining six women, who had been connected to the welfare department intermittently for an average of 12 years, referred to their experiences of "getting on and off welfare" as if it were comparable to going in and out of a bad relationship. Over the course of 25 years, Pat Graham had received various forms of relief for periods ranging from nine months to several years. And Mary McDonald, for her part, had been on the AFDC rolls for one to two years (she could not remember which), kept herself out of the system for two years, and then gotten back on the rolls for another five. The majority of the other recipients I encountered at welfare rights

-16-

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Women in the American Welfare Trap
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Chapter 1 - Producing the World in Everyday Talk 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Welfare Trap I: Recipients 16
  • Chapter 3 - A Tenuous Advocacy 43
  • Chapter 4 - Us 56
  • Chapter 5 - Them 72
  • Chapter 6 - The Welfare Trap II: Workers 82
  • Chapter 7 - Good and (Mostly) Bad Clients 98
  • Chapter 8 - Further Productions: Attitudes and Policy 117
  • Chapter 9 - Trapped as They Are 131
  • Chapter 10 - Conclusions 157
  • Appendix A: Transcripts 163
  • Appendix B 189
  • Bibliography 195
  • Index 203
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