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Abstracts from Volume 35, Number 3
(September, 2008)


SPECIAL ISSUE:
BEYOND THE NUMBERS: HOW THE LIVED EXPERIENCES OF WOMEN
CHALLENGE THE “SUCCESS” OF WELFARE REFORM


INTRODUCTION
Mary Gatta and Luisa S. Deprez

WOMEN’S LIVES AND POVERTY: DEVELOPING A FRAMEWORK OF REAL REFORM FOR WELFARE
Mary Gatta and Luisa S. Deprez

The historic 1996 welfare reform is typically regarded as a successful public policy. Using the limited success metric of “reducing welfare rolls,” welfare evaluations and analysis have obscured the lived experiences of recipients, particularly among women, who are disproportionally represented among welfare recipients. While it is true that welfare numbers are down, those women who have been forced off or left behind are not doing well. In this paper we seek to explore and critically evaluate the lived experiences of women, to challenge mainstream understandings of women’s “success” post-welfare, and propose a theoretical and methodological framework, based on an intersectional analysis, that will create more effective policy.

LONG-TERM TANF PARTICIPANTS AND BARRIERS TO EMPLOYMENT: A QUALITATIVE STUDY IN MAINE
Sandra S. Butler, Janine Corbett, Crystal Bond
and Chris Hastedt

Although welfare rolls have declined dramatically since the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996, many of those parents still receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) face multiple barriers to employment. In response to a proposed state bill increasing work requirements and imposing stricter time limits, the authors conducted focus groups and interviews in order to learn about the experiences of long-term recipients of TANF in Maine. Domestic violence, children’s disabilities, and health issues for the mother emerged as key obstacles to meeting TANF work requirements for the 28 women participating in the study. Study findings contributed to the defeat of the state bill and informed policy recommendations offered herein.

DROPPED FROM THE ROLLS: MEXICAN IMMIGRANTS, RACE, AND RIGHTS IN THE ERA OF WELFARE REFORM
Alejandra Marchevsky and Jeanne Theoharis

Welfare reform transferred considerable discretion over eligibility standards and benefits to individual caseworkers, contributing to a highly diffuse, yet system-wide, practice of discrimination against nonwhite and foreign-born families within the new TANF program. Based on a two-year ethnographic study of welfare reform’s impact on Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles County, this article documents a pattern of heightened anti-immigrant sentiment and disentitlement within L.A. County’s welfare system following the passage of PRWORA. The vast majority of eligible immigrant families in our study lost some or all of their cash and food stamp benefits, and were systematically denied access to the work and social supports promised under welfare reform, including childcare, training and education, and transportation. Our research illuminates how race, gender, and immigrant status intersect to block Latinas’ access to welfare entitlements, and to maintain their position in low-wage and unstable employment. We describe the racial effects of three tactics used by welfare officials in L.A.: unlawful reductions or termination of immigrant benefits; harassment and humiliation through Job Club; and the tracking of immigrants away from education and into low-wage jobs. Placing the current welfare debate in the context of post-civil rights politics, we also question the refusal of mainstream policymakers and welfare researchers to engage issues of racial discrimination and inequality in their evaluation of PRWORA.

WELFARE AND FAMILY ECONOMIC SECURITY: TOWARD A PLACE-BASED POVERTY KNOWLEDGE
Deborah A. Harris and Domenico Parisi

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 is viewed by many as a resounding success. Its success, however, is predicated primarily on caseload reduction rather than improvement of family well-being. In addition, provisions in the act ignore the importance of place in shaping one’s life chances. Using Alice O’Connor’s influential book, Poverty Knowledge, as a framework, we discuss findings from a qualitative study that examines how low-income families plan for a life without welfare in places with different opportunities and structural constraints. We find that returns to TANF are common among welfare leavers and that place plays a role in influencing the decision to use and return to welfare. The findings also suggest that states’ “one size fits all” welfare policies fail to address the major needs of low-income women attempting to move off TANF and that, until adequate policies are created, economic insecurity and poor family well-being will remain the norm for many former TANF recipients.

TRACKING THE TRANSITION FROM WELFARE TO WORK
Cynthia Needles Fletcher, Mary Winter, and An-Ti Shih

One of the primary goals of the 1996 federal welfare reform legislation was to reduce dependency on cash transfers and to promote self-sufficiency through employment in the paid labor force. This paper draws upon a qualitative study of 18 Iowa welfare recipients and tracks changes that occur over a three-year, post-reform period. Thick descriptions highlight the internal family dynamics of the choices made over time. The purposes of the study are twofold: first, to document changes in family composition, employment, housing, and program participation, and second, to report how recipients experience such changes. Findings reveal that the 11 families who left the cash benefit program were usually still dependent on Food Stamps, Medicaid, and other need-based programs to supplement family income. Income sources within families were often one or two low-wage jobs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) payments. In addition, chronic health problems plagued most families still receiving cash benefits, and those cycling on and off cash benefits experienced frequent changes in employment and/or family composition.

THE UNTOLD STORY OF WELFARE FRAUD
Richelle S. Swan, Linda L. Shaw, Sharon Cullity,
Joni Halpern, Juliana Humphrey, Wendy M. Limbert,
and Mary Roche

The experiences of women who have been charged with welfare fraud in the years following the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act cast a shadow over the claim that welfare reform has been an unequivocal success. This article addresses this under-explored issue by considering the face of welfare fraud in San Diego, California after the change to federal welfare law. After a brief discussion of the socio-historical context of welfare fraud prosecution and a summary of the scholarly findings related to welfare fraud post-PRWORA, the article details a new “poverty knowledge” about welfare fraud drawn from the experiences of women. This is followed by a discussion of how this knowledge has been used to help inspire the creation of a welfare fraud diversion program that serves as an alternative to felony prosecution for first-time, low-level welfare fraud defendants in San Diego County.

LOST IN APPALACHIA: THE UNEXPECTED IMPACT OF WELFARE REFORM ON OLDER WOMEN IN RURAL COMMUNITIES
Debra A. Henderson and Ann R. Tickamyer

A primary goal of welfare reform was to overcome welfare dependency through the promotion of work and the setting of lifetime limits. While at first blush this goal may have appeared reasonable for young recipients, it does not address the needs of older recipients, particularly women. Based on in-depth interviews with welfare recipients in four impoverished rural Appalachian counties over a four year time span (1999-2001; 2004), this paper evaluates the experiences of older women as they confront the changes brought on by welfare reform legislation. Findings suggest that impoverished older women in isolated rural communities experience multiple crises as they attempt to negotiate the “new” welfare system. As a result of spatial inequality, limited social capital, and the effects of ageism, they have tremendous difficulty meeting even their most basic needs.

“IT’S ALL ONE BIG CIRCLE”: WELFARE DISCOURSE AND THE EVERYDAY LIVES OF URBAN ADOLESCENTS
Staci T. Lowe

Welfare reform succeeded, in part, because of discourse that characterized the poverty problem as one of long-term dependency and personal irresponsibility. Adolescent pregnancy was targeted as both cause and manifestation of a welfare crisis. This study examined how welfare reform was perceived and experienced by low-income, urban adolescents. Findings from interviews revealed that adolescents agreed with many of the basic tenets of welfare reform, largely because they had appropriated much of the discourse prevalent in wider society. However, their complex life stories contained a powerful subtext concerning structural determinants of poverty that ran counter to prevailing notions of “personal responsibility.”

BOOK REVIEWS

Gangs in the Global City: Alternatives to Traditional Criminology. John M. Hagedorn, Editor. Reviewed by Matthew T. Theriot.

Civic Engagement: Social Science and Progressive Era Reform in New York City.
John Louis Recchiuti. Reviewed by John M. Herrick.

Sociology in America: A History. Craig Calhoun, Editor. Reviewed by Richard Caputo.

Civic Service Worldwide: Impacts and Inquiry. Amanda Moore McBride & Michael W. Sherraden, Editors. Reviewed by Barbara J. Robles.

Citizenship and Those Who Leave: The Politics of Emigration and Expatriation. Nancy L. Green and Francois Weil, Editors. Reviewed by Miriam Potocky.

Ask & Tell: Gay & Lesbian Veterans Speak Out. Steve Estes. Reviewed by John F. Longres.

Drugs and Drug Policy: The Control of Consciousness Alteration. Clayton J. Mosher and Scott M. Akins. Reviewed by Sean R. Hogan.

BOOK NOTES

The Promise of Welfare Reform.
Keith M. Kilty and Elizabeth Segal.

Human Behavior and the Social Environment: Models, Metaphors, and Maps for Applying Theoretical Perspectives to Practice. James Forte.

Understanding Social Inequality. Tim Butler and Paul Watt.

Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education. Peter Sacks.

The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School. Tim Clydesdale.

America Transformed: Globalization, Inequality and Power. Gary Hytrek and Kristine M. Zentgraf.

Blame Welfare, Ignore Poverty and Inequality.Joel F. Handler and Yeheskel Hasenfeld.

Social Security between Past and Future: Ambonese Networks of Care and Support. Franz von Benda-Beckmann and Kebeet von Benda-Beckmann.

The Europeanization of Social Protection.
Jon Kvist and Juho Saari, Editors.

Busier Than Ever: Why American Families Can’t Slow Down.
Charles N. Darrah, James M. Freeman and J. A. English-Leuck.

 

 

 

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