Personal Responsibilities Before and After Reform: How Poor Mothers Manage Welfare, Jobs, and Family

Judith A. Levine, University of Chicago

Many of the arguments in support of welfare reform suggested that the policy would improve the quality of poor families’ lives. Child care arrangements would be eased through subsidized services and employment would provide mothers and children a sense of self-worth. In this in-depth qualitative study of women navigating welfare-receipt and low-wage work both before and after welfare reform, I find that while mothers post-reform indeed are better able to organize child care and enter the labor market, they experience many of the same challenges that women pre-reform faced. Turnover in jobs is high and many jobs fail to provide a sense of independence or satisfaction. Most women find some source of child care, but encounter the same problems with instability, trust, and quality that mothers pre-reform experienced. Women at both time periods rely heavily on their personal networks for work supports, which solves some challenges but induces others.

Presented in Session 82: Social and Demographic Effects of Welfare Reform (TANF) Ten Years After Enactment of PRWORA