A notable outcome of the welfare reforms enacted in 1996 is the increase in the proportion of single mothers who have entered the workforce. With the receipt of benefits having become contingent upon looking for and securing a job, many who would have stayed home with their kids found it necessary to take jobs instead.
How to balance work and family issues has become a major issue for women across the country in all income classes, but especially so for single mothers who were formerly on welfare. This book, tapping into the quantitative and qualitative evidence gathered in the Women's Employment Study (WES), offers insights into the lives of women in an urban Michigan county who left welfare for work and the role their family decisions play in their labor market decisions.
In "Working after Welfare," we experience the day-to-day struggles these women face and the reasons they tend to remain in low-wage, dead-end jobs. The hundreds of women who were followed in the WES were not constrained by the decision on whether to work or to stay home and raise their kids, but by one of finding the right balance between caregiving responsibilities and their families' financial and other needs. Interestingly, though, once that balance was attained, many women chose to remain in a job or forego additional schooling even if it meant stagnant or slow wage growth, for fear of interrupting their children's schedules or because of an unwillingness to spend less time with their families.
Seefeldt includes a discussion of the existing policies and programs aimed at assisting low-wage workers and welfare recipients, and, based on qualitative evidence from the WES, the limitations of some of these approaches. For instance, the women interviewed were generally disconnected from the welfare-to-work system and had little or no knowledge of the job assistance services provided under the Workforce Investment Act. And if they attended community college, they likely did so on less than a half-time basis and therefore were ineligible for the many federal and state tuition assistance packages. Seefeldt then proposes a set of policies aimed at expanding the current government focus, from one aimed at supporting work to one aimed at supporting workers. This can be accomplished, she says, by creating a more flexible workplace and working hours, more accessible educational opportunities, and basic universal health care.
"Seefeldt's book is a timely reminder that while PRWORA may have changed the circumstances of low-income families, more could be done to improve their conditions." –Journal of Children and Poverty