Kristin Seefeldt: Working after Welfare Reform

Kristin Seefeldt: Working after Welfare Reform


>>Good afternoon, and welcome. It’s great to see everybody here on a rainy
afternoon, but we’re happy to welcome you here to what I’m sure will be a very
interesting talk and reception to follow. I’m Susan Collins, a Joan
and Sanford Weill dean here at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. And it’s a great personal
pleasure for me to be able to introduce our speaker
today, Kristin Seefeldt. Kristin is a research investigator
here at the Ford School, and she’s also assistant director
for the National Poverty Center. She teaches a very, very highly
regarded course on social welfare policy, and she’s mentored a great many of our
students who just simply sing her praises. We’re very pleased to note that
Kristin’s also an alum of the Ford School, and so she has many close ties to a lot of
us here in the community in different ways. She earned her Master’s in Public Policy
here in 1966, and we’re very proud of –>>’96.>>1996. Did I just say ’66 [laughter]?>>Wasn’t born [laughter].>>So bear with me. 1996. Well, you can read a longer description
of many of the things that Kristin has done and her background in the
program that we distributed, but I want to say two additional things
about Kristin that aren’t mentioned there. The first is that Kristin’s career has already
been marked by an unusually broad approach to studying poverty and doing
research on poverty related issues. She’s really just one of perhaps a
handful of scholars in the country who combined the following set of things: first
of all, have a deep policy analysis expertise with survey data, and that’s
really very important. And she spent time in welfare offices talking
to agency workers, and she spent time in Lansing and Washington, D.C. with policymakers and agency officials trying to
improve our welfare policies. And on top of that she has been in the homes
of welfare recipients and poor women talking about the issues that concern them. That comprehensive approach really is a
distinguishing element of Kristin’s work and the book that she’s going to
be talking about with us today, and we’re sure that it’s one of the things
that will continue to set apart her work and really make it extremely valuable and have an important contribution
in poverty research and policy. The second addition I’d like to make to
Kristin’s official biography concerns her role in the National Poverty Center which, as
you know, is a cosponsor for today’s event. The NPC was the first large research center
to be housed here at the Ford School, and it is of incredible benefit to
the Ford School in a great many ways. We won the competition to
host the NPC back in 2002 — and I did get that date right
[laughter], back in 2002. And I know that our NPC director,
Sheldon Danziger, who’s here with us in our front row would agree whole-heartedly
that, without the very hard work that Kristin Seefeldt put into a
number of stages for that application, it’s likely that we would not
have been awarded the grant. And so we’re extremely grateful
to her for all of that input. Kristin was a key member of the team that spent
long nights and weekends writing the proposal to Health and Human Services, and her own
research activities have helped the Ford School to win a renewal of that grant just last year. And, again, we’re very appreciable
for those continued efforts. So, with that, please join me in a very special
welcome to our very own Kristin Seefeldt. [ Applause ]>>Well, thank you, Susan, for
that very generous welcome. Hopefully this talk will live
up to all of those expectations. So, in the spirit of thanking,
I do want to thank all of you also for coming out for this talk. I’d like to thank my family for
driving here from Wisconsin to come and my Ann Arbor family also for coming. But this project itself really
wouldn’t have gotten off the ground if it hadn’t been supported by a whole host of
funders, many different foundations contributed to this — to the larger project
that I’ll talk about today. I’m going to — I do want to particularly note
the Upjohn Institute for employment research and the Ford Foundation which provided funding
and gave me time to be able to do a lot of the analysis and to the
writing that resulted in the book. A number of graduate students, I think
all of them have subsequently left, finished their programs,
contributed to this project. And then I want to say a very special thank you
to Sandy and Sheldon Danziger who really were — they are the minds behind
the women’s employment study. Sandy is the principle investigator,
and Sheldon has worked tirelessly over the years to raise a lot of funds. But without their mentorship
and support and their, you know, just constant “you can do this,”
this project wouldn’t be done today. So thank you very much. So when I was starting to put this presentation
together, it occurred to me that perhaps, you know, it might seem a little odd to be
talking about low income women balancing work and family when right now there are just so
many families, particularly here in Michigan, who are really just struggling to keep jobs
and keep their families afloat financially. So, you know, why should we
think about the balance issue when everyone right now is quite out of whack? But, you know, I think we all hope that
the current economic crisis will come to an end sooner rather than later. And, you know, I would argue that, absent
some major policy change or other change, that issues of work family balance will
kind of rise to the top of the agenda again. And, indeed, one of President Obama’s
campaign pledges was to, quote, protect the balance between work and family. But too often I think, you know, when we think
about these issues of work family balance, the picture that we get in our head, the
mental image is one where it’s a family with two parents, often working in professional
jobs; or maybe the picture is just of a women, but the implication is probably
that she’s a professional women. So I actually decided to test that hypothesis
and did a little Google image search, typing in work and family
and then work family balance. And, you know, it’s true that
it was mostly pictures of women that popped up as the most popular images. And often they were, you know,
cartoons or otherwise comical figures. But I think as you notice here
all of these women are white. They are all wearing suits or
otherwise dressed professionally. There’s a computer in every
single one of the pictures. So I would say my theory was correct. In none of these pictures are the
women dressed in scrubs, for example, to do to their jobs as home health care aides. They’re not dressed in any kind of uniform
that would identify them as a stocker in a big box retail store or somebody
working at a fast food outlet, typical jobs on the lower
end of the pay spectrum. And, you know, while these women may be
alone or alone with children sort of flying in the background, you know, they’re
not necessarily single moms, you know, not like those who are on the cover
of the book and who are shown up here. You know, it’s not true that there aren’t
any discussions out in the policy world about balancing work and family among low
income workers and single mothers in particular. But often those discussions tend to be centered
around providing access to quality child care and funding for that, which I don’t —
you know, is completely an important issue and one that we haven’t adequately addressed
but sort of this notion about putting the two, work and family, in balance
and rarely discussed. So why do I think this is an
important issue for us to think about? So, as many of you know, in 1996,
welfare reform was signed into law. And, since then, single mothers have
been working at record high levels, but most of those jobs are quite low paying. And one of the tenets of welfare reform was
that any job was better than no job at all. In fact, an entry level job was a stepping
stone into a higher paying job down the line. But what I found through conducting
this study was that the women I talked to really perceived there to be a number of
challenges to moving up into higher paying jobs. And some of these, like not
having a higher education, probably will strike most
of you as an obvious one. But many women also talked about how
they deliberately did not take promotions or seek out other opportunities to advance
at work and to move into higher paying jobs, and the reasons for doing so
had to do with their families. Now, we’re not talking about, of
course, women who are, you know, contemplating taking an executive level position that will require extensive
travel and 80-hour work weeks. We’re not talking about women
who are trying to make partner or trying to get tenure at a university. But, rather, the women I’ll introduce you to
are ones like Jackie who is an $8 an hour worker at a deli counter at a grocery store. And she told me that she was not going to
apply for an available promotion at work since it would entail a longer commute
time for her and take away time that she had to spend with her daughter. And during her discussion about why she didn’t
apply for this promotion, she said to me, quote, I can’t think of greed and money and
opportunity right now, end quote. Rather, she said she had to make
sure her daughter’s needs were met, and that included supervising homework and
taking her to activities like Girl Scouts. Of course, by making these choices, Jackie and
other women like her were foregoing higher pay, and that could have definitely
helped their family economically. Jackie’s earnings, which are really the
only source of income for her family, put her family just over the poverty line. Yes, she often had difficulty
keeping food in the house. She said that when her children
were younger they ate less. And she was also on the federal food stamp
program, and she had more than enough food. But now she had teenage boys, and she often
had trouble keeping food in the cupboards. Food didn’t last that long. And, of course, she was earning enough money
to make her ineligible for food stamps. So how did I come to meet Jackie
and hear about her concerns? Let me back up — actually,
back up quite a bit to 1996. So as many of you know, in 1996, President
Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act
or PRWORA as people call it for short. And, as students in social welfare policy will
tell you, this really represented a major change in the way the nation delivers cash
welfare benefits to poor families. There are a whole host of changes, but
some, you know, examples of the big ones. So instead of receiving monthly checks as
long as a family remained income eligible and there were children under age 18 in the
house, the new law puts a time limit on receipt of cash assistance, five years or
less at the state’s discretion. There’s also requirements that
recipients be working or looking for work. And also states are now required
to impose rather strict penalties for not complying with program rules. In some states, that may be a
complete loss of benefits altogether. So when these changes came about,
there were many in the research and policy community including folks here
at U of M who were concerned that poor women on welfare would be driven
even further into poverty and that their children would face even more
hardships because of the new law’s provisions. Further, a body of research had long
established that, compared to other women, women on welfare had lower educational
levels, less work experience, often faced transportation
and child care problems. And there was also a growing concern
that, perhaps on some other dimensions, welfare recipients had some
other issues to overcome; and that included mental health
problems, severe physical health problems, abusive relationships, and the like. So the Women’s Employment Study or WES as we
call it really sought to measure the extent of these and issue — issues
facing the welfare population. So we followed a sample of African-American
and white American women who were living in one Michigan county and who were all
receiving welfare benefits in early 1997, just shortly after welfare
reform was implemented. And, you know, indeed, when we began the study, we did find that quite a few women
did have a number of challenges that you would think would impede a
successful transition from welfare to work. So, you know, nearly 30 percent didn’t
have a high school diploma or a GED. About 20 percent read at
the 5th grade level or less. Many didn’t — had no experience working in jobs where they performed sort
of higher level skills. Almost 37 percent met the
diagnostic screening criteria for at least one mental health
disorder; and that includes depression, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic
stress disorder, or alcohol or drug dependence. 16 percent had experienced an abusive
relationship in the prior 12 months. More than 20 percent said that
they’d used illegal drugs previously, and about 20 percent supported that they had
a severe physical health problem which meant that they reported their health to be fair
or poor; and they also had some limitations in doing tasks of daily living such
as walking up a flight of stairs or picking up a bag of groceries. But many of these women did
leave welfare for work. So on this chart you can see over time from 1997 to 2004 there’s a magenta
line showing the proportion of our sample receiving welfare benefits
over time, and there’s a sharp, sharp drop. And by the end of the study
only about 20 percent of the women were still receiving
welfare benefits. And there’s, you know, also an increase in work
levels, reaching a peak of nearly 80 percent of the sample in late 1999, dropping a bit,
but still about 70 percent of the women in the study were working
at any one point in time. And what happened in WES really
mirrored what was going on nationally. So this slide shows over a longer
period of time, 1960 to 2007. And you can see here, too, a dramatic
drop in the number of families that were receiving cash welfare assistance
and then also increased rates of employment. Now, this just shows women with high school
education or less broken down by marital status and single moms with less
— a high school education or less is a reasonable approximation
for women who are on welfare. And you can see, indeed, with the red
line later on, the employment rate of single mothers passes the employment rate
of married mothers who were similarly educated. So, in order to encourage employment
among welfare recipients, Michigan, like many other states, adopted what
is known as a Work First program. In these programs, welfare recipients were
instructed on things like how to write a resume, how to conduct an appropriate interview. They might be taken to job fairs and
actually do interviews with employers. But in these programs the goal was really
just to get women into jobs, any job. And, in fact, at the time, the mantra of the
Work First program in Michigan was “A job, a better job, a career,” you know, the notion being that the entry level job
is just merely a stepping stone onto a path to a better paying job and,
finally, perhaps even a career. So a question is: Were women actually
advancing into better jobs and into a career? Well, from our data we can look
at certain attributes of jobs, so we can look at the median hourly
wage for those who were employed. And, indeed, you see it goes up over time from
$6.60 an hour in 1997 up to $8.35 in 2003. You know, so it’s an increase. It’s not an inconsequential increase but,
you know, $8.35 is not exactly, you know, the wage rate of what one
would think of as a career. We also see, too, that the proportion of
workers who are in jobs that offer various types of benefits like paid sick and vacation days,
offers of health benefits, I’ll say that a lot of our sample couldn’t actually
afford to take health insurance. And retirement benefits, that goes up over
time, as well, which might be some indication that the quality of the jobs into
which women are moving are better. But, you know, it doesn’t really give us
a good sense of the flavor for the jobs. And, in fact, between 2001 and 2003,
there’s a drop-off in these proportions. And, in fact, as welfare reform entered
into what some people called its next stage, after caseloads went down so dramatically, what
was sort of the next step for welfare reform, there was a growing concern in
some quarters that, in fact, women were not moving up the employment ladder. And there were several demonstration
projects launched around the country to try to have advancement and retention
programs for former welfare recipients. Michigan enacted a few policy changes that were
intended to help women secure better jobs by — through participation, education,
and training programs. Other states did other policy changes. But Michigan, like most of these other
states participating in these demonstrations, really had difficulty really
enrolling people into the programs. And there was some survey
evidence that, you know, clients were not particularly
interested in these advancement services. So I wanted to learn a little bit more
about maybe why this might be and learn more about how women leaving welfare for work think about their own mobility prospects
and advancement prospects. So, to do that, what I decided to do was to
interview in depth a small number of women who participated in the Women’s
Employment Study and, you know, talk to them more about what
they thought about work, what they thought about their
career prospects and the like. So what I thought that I would hear
was that many women would tell me that they were just stuck in dead-end jobs and
that these jobs offered very few opportunities to learn new skills, skills that would
help them to move into a better paying job. Or, you know, based on what we saw from
the survey results, that, you know, women might talk about how experiences with
domestic violence prevented them from going to work or how their health and mental
health problems were a complication to maintaining steady employment;
and also, of course, that the lack of education was
a stumbling block, as well. So it’s true that some of the women that I
talked to were, indeed, in dead-end jobs, and they were never going to move up. But most women didn’t talk
about their jobs in that way. Many more women talked about they
needed more education to get ahead. But the real dominant theme in women’s
narratives were that they were like Jackie when I talked about in the introduction. They believed that they really
couldn’t both move up economically, move up on the pay scale while also doing
what they saw best for their children, that these were incompatible goals. So for the remainder of my presentation I
want to talk a little bit more about some of these issues and finish with talking about
some potential policy changes that, you know, might help women like Jackie and
others who are trying to balance work and family obligations while at the same
time trying to be economically secure. So let me just give you a little very brief
rundown on the 32 women who were interviewed in depth for this part of the study. So 56 African-American, 44 percent white. That roughly mirrors the
breakdown of the larger WES sample. They ranged in age from 26 to 46
with a median age of 33 years old. In 1997, when we started this study, three-quarters of them had very young children
living in the house, so age 5 or younger. Six and a half years later, that was less true. Their children had grown up. But, you know, they on average
had two children living with them, and they tended to be older
school-aged and teenagers. So these are not necessarily
women with very young children. Compared to the rest of the WES sample, their
median hourly wage in 2003 was $9.50 an hour. If you remember the rest of the sample,
it was $8.50 an hour, so slightly higher. But in looking at some of the other issues
like experiencing mental health problems, domestic violence, education levels, they look pretty much the same
as the rest of the WES sample. So I’m not going to argue that, you know, these results are completely
generalizable to any other population. But with qualitative work we can get sort
of a peek inside of people’s experiences and learn more about how
they feel about their jobs. So women worked in a whole range of different
jobs: housekeeping; janitorial services; home health care or nursing;
manufacturing; cashiering, particularly in retail and fast food. And these were the jobs in
which they ended the study. So I asked people to sort of talk about
their employment histories and, you know, how and why they made various
transitions between jobs. Let me just highlight three examples. So Lorraine is someone who,
over the course of the study — and these are not their real names — moved from
a lower paying job into a higher paying job. Lorraine had never finished high school. She had dropped out at age
16 when she became pregnant, and she subsequently went on to receive welfare. So, when the study started in 1997, Lorraine
worked a whole series of cashier jobs, all of which she earned just
over the minimum wage. In 1999 her sister told her about a job opening
at a local hospital for a janitorial position. Her sister also worked at the hospital. And this job paid $7 an hour, again, not
very high but a substantial improvement in her hourly wages compared
to what she had been making. She received two raises and, by the
end of our study, she was making $8.50. But the higher wages was not the reason
Lorraine gave for taking this job. She told us that, at the hospital,
there are lots of opportunities to move around into different positions,
to learn new skills. She’d never done a job like this. But when we talked further,
really something else emerged. She said that, when she worked cashier jobs,
she often ended up working the second shift, which left her kids home alone after school. And she thought this unsupervised
time was a direct contributor to the fact her kids weren’t
doing particularly well in school. So she decided it was really time
to find a job that allowed her time to monitor her children’s homework and be
there when they returned home from school. Tony worked as a teacher’s aide
in a local elementary school, and she had been a long-term welfare
recipient when, in the mid-1990s, she started hearing rumors that the
welfare system was about to change. She said that she heard that the welfare
agency would soon no longer allow participation in education and training programs,
so she very quickly completed her GED. And once welfare did require
women to go to work, she said my case worker didn’t
need to tell me to get a job. And with the exception of a short time in
1998 when she worked in fast food and just over the minimum wage, her
jobs had paid fairly well. And when I interviewed her in
2004, she was earning $11 an hour. But the local school board had
started to lay off support personnel, and Tony was concerned that
she might lose her job. She also knew that without — with only a GED, her prospects for an equally
well-paying job were pretty slim. She talked a little bit about going back
to school, but she didn’t really know where she would go or what she might study. But, in the meantime, she said, like so
many other women in this part of the study, that really making sure her teenage
boys did well in school and stayed out of trouble was her primary concern. Finally, there’s Mayline [phonetic]. She had sort of bounced around from job to job
and often turned out because she had conflicts with her employers over perceived
scheduling fairness and other issues. She had said that, when she had a position
in a factory, they made her work from sun up to sun down, Sunday to Sunday,
never giving her any time off. And frustrated by this inability to get time
off to tend to errands and family, she quit. She also said she quit jobs because employers
asked her to do work that was outside of her job description, or she quit
because she got bad vibes from coworkers. And Mayline, you know, does sort of represent
this type of welfare recipient that a lot of policymakers worried about in welfare — after welfare reform, and that’s
this is the person who can get jobs, but she just can’t keep them because
of interpersonal difficulties. But, in talking with Mayline,
she really stressed repeatedly that her foremost responsibility
was to her family. She noted that jobs were easy to
come by, but she only had one family. And, by the time we met up with her in 2004, she
was getting paid about $130 a week by the state to take care of her bedridden grandmother. So these three stories represent
some of the major themes that came out in these in-depth interviews. And so, certainly, pay was an
issue that was important to women. You know, the higher the pay, the better. Women really considered other aspects of a
job, primarily scheduling and commute times. When they were making decisions
about whether or not to take a job, to stay in the current job they had, and work
schedules and particularly how they related to their children’s own schedules
were one of the most important factors that women in our sample considered. And this is regardless of
the ages of their children. So let me talk a little more
about how this issue of work schedules and families comes into play. So I’ll give you the example of Olivia. And she had been working in a bank for
about 7 years when we talked to her in 2004. She worked various shifts. Sometimes it was 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sometimes it was noon until 9:00 p.m. And part of the reason that her shifts varied so much is
because her job was at the bank’s call center, and that was open beyond
standard business hours. She said that she often would field
calls from several hundred people a day and that this was quite stressful. She and her coworkers sat in an enormous room
that was divided off by section of the — for the department they represented. There were electronic signs throughout the room that were telling representatives how many
clients were waiting to have their calls taken, and that number was just constantly
blinking and flashing at them. Most of these calls lasted ten minutes or less,
but a lot of them generated a lot of paperwork that she would have to process
in a very timely fashion. So, clearly, Olivia had a lot of
time pressures on her in her job. But, again, when talking about what
really stressed her on her job, she said that it was she couldn’t depend
on a regular schedule week to week. And even her schedule within
a week varied a lot. You know, this threw her sleep
off, as you might imagine. But, more importantly, she believed
that a set schedule would allow her to spend more time with her kids. She often worked through dinner,
and she really lamented the fact that her children ate hot dogs on those nights. But many women had found jobs
with schedules that coincided with their children’s school days or,
at a minimum, allowed them to be home when they sent their kids off to school
or be there when they arrived back. There were a couple women, you know, said that
the reason for this was that they were worried about what might happen with their kids
if they weren’t there to monitor them. Tony, the school aide, said that her oldest son
had gotten into trouble with the law at a time when she was working at a
job when she wasn’t home. And she said, quote, My kids are teenagers. And having teenagers, well, I think a
parent needs to be at home when they’re at home because they get carried away. I already experienced that with my oldest son,
and I don’t want to make that same mistake with these two — her other sons. And a couple women also said that they
feared that, if left unsupervised, their teenage daughters might become pregnant, and they wanted to be at
home to keep an eye on them. But for the most part these
stories were more about wanting to be there and participate in kids’ lives. Most of these women had school-aged children, so it wasn’t so much an issue
of finding child care. But the desire to be there and participant
in these kids’ lives often got in their way of their ability to advance on the job. So, again, bringing up Jackie, you
know, she didn’t apply for a promotion because she said it would mean
transferring to a farther away store. She explained how her daughter’s activities
and schedules played a role in this decision. She said if the job was in my
store I probably would apply. But if it was somewhere else, I just can’t
do it right now because of my 9-year-old. I’d have to get up earlier, and I ain’t got
nobody here to get my daughter, you know. And usually I have a lot to deal with. I do help out in Girl Scouts. I’m a coleader. My daughter’s got — she’s very,
very busy, and it’s just like trying to participate into her life and stuff. She’s into this science project. We’re so far behind on that. I’ve got to get that together. And then, like, next week Saturday on my
day off I’ve got to go pick up $700 worth of Girl Scout cookies and put them in my Blazer. But that makes it kind of hard, I mean,
working because there’s so much stuff going on in her life; and sometimes I can’t be
at everything, and that kind of upsets me. In fact, one-third of the women that we
interviewed explicitly said that they — their responsibilities to their children
outweighed any desire to move up. And most of the other women talked
about it in a more indirect manner. A number of women believed that once their
children were grown they would be able to devote more time to themselves
and would be able to advance. In fact, Amanda is representative of this view. She said, A lot of my time that
I could devote to education and to work I choose to spend on my children. And that’s temporary. Once the kids are grown, I
don’t have any real reasons to keep me from growing and moving ahead. So if children were the focus of women’s present
day lives, what might the future hold for them? So we asked women to talk about where they
envisioned being in the next five years. And this would generally be a
time when their kids were grown and out of the house or nearly so. For most of the women, returning to school
was part of either a plan or a notion that they said would be very important. A couple of women had already started
accruing credits toward a degree. A couple were also ready to start,
were looking into various options. Other women said that they — yes, they wanted
to go to school; yes, they wanted to finish, but they really had no real concrete plan for
doing that and or where they could enroll, what they might achieve, and the like. So being off of welfare for
several years, they seemed to — and not really connected to any other
sorts of systems, they really were unaware of the availability of various
services to them that they could use to help them achieve their goals. So what, then, do I think policy
could do to help women like these? In the book, I offer a slew of possible options, but today I’m only going
to highlight three of them. So if there’s something missing,
it might be in the book [laughter]. So on the issue of education, community colleges
have traditionally served a role of, you know, providing education to adults who are
returning to school and maybe after a time in the labor force or going to
school and also continuing to work. Additionally, community colleges are
more likely than liberal arts colleges or four-year universities to really provide
the kind of programs that are tightly linked to local labor markets so that, you
know, once their graduates leave, there’s an increased likelihood that they would
find positions that are needed in the workforce. But starting a successful course
through the community college system or any other educational program
does pose some challenges. You know, school costs money, not just tuition
but books and fees and potentially lost wages if people have to take time out of the labor
market in order to attend classes and study. Unfortunately, a lot of financial aid packages
are not available to students who attend less than half time or even less than full time. And many of the women we interviewed were
taking their classes a class at a time, often with a couple of years in between. So changes to the financial aid system
I argue might increase access, you know, for this particular group of students. And, in fact, in 2006 there were some changes
made to the federal Pell Grant program to allow some level of assistance
to less than full-time students. This is really a step in the right direction. So, second, you know, over and
above financial assistance, low-income students might need
some additional supports in order to compete in their education program. So Tia, who was in school when we interviewed
her, said she found it extremely difficult to juggle her own homework
while also tending to her kids. As a result, she said her grades suffered because she didn’t want her
children’s grades to be poor. MDRC, which is a social policy
research group in New York City, has started to evaluate some different
approaches to helping increased access to community college for lower income
students as well as improved graduation rates. One program that’s being evaluated
in Ohio provides intensive and team-based advising to students. And advising is not just
limited to academic matters. Student often meet with their advisor and
talk about issues of work-family balance and other personal matters that might
be interfering with their education. The recession is nowhere
near from being completed. But interviews that have been
done with students have indicated that they really appreciate
this service, and it’s perceived as being extremely valuable to their success. Now, of course, this says nothing
about the other piece of the issue which is increasing awareness of various
education and training opportunities. But at least for those who are in a
system, it might help them progress along. But as hopefully I’ve convinced
you, participation in education and training activities as well as decisions
about employment more broadly really seem to be greatly shaped by women’s
roles as parents. And many women were not only hesitant to take
promotions, they were also hesitant to return to school for fear of really disrupting
their children’s lives and a desire to not have to take time away from them. So, in this case, financial supplements might
provide some relief to low-wage work families, including those headed by single mothers. The Earned Income Tax Credit, the
EITC, is a very important source of the financial supplement for
low-income families in this country. Working families with children who
earn approximately $39,000 a year or less can qualify for the EITC. So, for a family with two or more children,
the EITC benefit rises as earnings rise and the benefit flattens out around $12,000
a year and phases out around $16,000 a year. But, you know, still, there’s
some extra benefit attached to it. In this most recent tax year, the
maximum EITC benefit for a family with two children was about $4,800. So workers whose income tax liability
is less than the amount of credit for which they qualify receive the
remaining amount of the credit as a refund. So additional income in the form of a financial
supplement like the EITC might make women feel like they were being rewarded
more for their work efforts. States also have the option
of supplementing the EITC, and many states do that,
although about half do not. The Obama administration does plan on increasing
the number of families who were eligible for EITC and also the size of the benefits. And, in fact, in at least one version of the
current stimulus bill, there’s provisions to increase the amount of EITC available
for families with three children or more. But a lot of the policy proposals
that get tossed around about how to help workers manage the work-family
balance really takes a given the way — the current way that work and family life is
structured in the U.S., and that is they assume that care giving responsibilities are a
private matter and also that government, to a large extent, shouldn’t interfere with
what are perceived to be business practices. So it really shouldn’t interfere
with leave policies and the like. But, you know, I’m going to say
we’re in a period of change, right? So maybe it’s time for a change
in the way we think about this. And maybe instead of just promoting
efforts to support work like the EITC does, maybe the U.S. should consider doing
more to actually support its workers. The demographics of the American workforce have
changed dramatically over the last 30 years. But the American workplace really has not. It is still set up on a model that sort of —
that retains a full-time full-year structure, you know, that sort of assumes a usually
male breadwinner is out in the labor force, and somebody is staying home with the kids. And that really may not make any
sense when, for the most part, we have dual-income households
and single-parent households. And those households also have significant
care giving responsibility, not just children but with the aging of American
society also on the other end as well. But we really — government doesn’t really do a
whole lot to regulate policies around positions that would make things more family friendly
and particularly for lower-skilled workers who often are sort of viewed as
expendable or at least interchangeable. So given the situation, given changing
demographics, one possibility might be to shorten the standard working week. So maybe a 40-hour work week made a lot of sense
when somebody was at home and somebody else went out into the labor market, and
that was the dominant family form. But now that we have a lot of
dual-earner and single-parent households, we may want to revisit how much time we really
expect individuals to spend at work while at the same time fulfilling their
care giving responsibilities. And a work week of less than 40 hours
would allow parents, and I mean parents across all income levels, to really
devote more time to care giving. Of course, in this study, that was
something desired by nearly all of the women. Also limiting full-time employment
to less than 40 hours a week for all workers increases the
likelihood that women wouldn’t be so penalized in the labor market. So in two-parent households, perhaps men
might be encouraged to devote more time to family responsibilities, and some of
that gender inequity would be erased. Also, you know, women who seek to work less
than 40 hours a week might not be viewed as marginal workers as many
part-time workers currently are. So this proposal, of course,
would mark a radical departure from current business practices. But there’s nothing particularly magical
or special about a 40-hour work week. You know, this was something that was
negotiated back in the ’30s and ’40s as a response also toward limiting the
amount of time people spent working. You know, and I realize, of course, it’s
not the necessarily an easy sell, either. But perhaps one way to view this is, you
know, this type of policy is to see them as investments in children
because they are really trying to promote the well-being of families. And if we think about children as public goods,
you know, we expect them to be educated enough to be our future workforce and hopefully pay
into our social security system and take care of us when we’re older, you
know, then maybe providing care in a private setting is something
that should be rewarded. Instead, I would say, under our current system,
women like those in our study really incur costs in the form of employment disruptions, forgone
wages, and diminished career opportunities. So as the women we interviewed made
clear, their children do come first. And we might think that policy could do a
little more to respect that decision but also to help all families become better
at supporting their families. Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Kristin would welcome some questions. And so why don’t we take perhaps a half an
hour or so, and I’ll let Kristin [inaudible].>>Yes, David.>>As somebody who has to leave a couple
minutes early to pick up my son from day care, I have a question about child
care arrangements and all of this. I understand these are more women. But to what extent did formal child care,
whether paid child care, [inaudible] child care, or a relative child care through the grandmother
in the area, the aunt and uncle in the area, even the neighbor in the area, to what extent
did that play a role in these women’s lives in helping to manage the [inaudible].>>So in all the conversations we had with these
women, it really didn’t come up much at all, say for maybe from one or two
women who had very small children. Again, for the most part, these were women
whose kids were between the ages of 10 and 16, so formal child care really
wasn’t something that they needed. I can say, though, in a study that I’m
currently working on with Helen Levy who also just left the room to get her child,
we have women who have much younger children, and discussions about child
care don’t really come up much. And that’s something that I think we’re going
to have to try to probe at, or my own sense is that there’s probably a lot more unsupervised
care than people want to admit to and a lot more of unstable familial arrangements. We do know that, at least in Michigan, the —
women who receive subsidies for child care, the primary method of provider is a relative
or friend, not a formal day care arrangement. Jenene [phonetic].>>I think I really like the input or
the focus on the shorter work week. And I guess, in terms of trying to do that
with my own organization, we seem to be bumping up against the issue of people
then not being able to — needing to work less time but not
able to make do with less pay. So what are you seeing or what are your thoughts
about the relationship between time at work and income, and are there some things we
need to think about definitely in terms of what basis are we actually paying people? Is the product output outcome
versus time in, time on task?>>Yeah. I mean, I think that is certainly one
— one way to go, like looking at output rather than just the amount of time
you spend in a particular place. I mean, another route to go is to
think about do we need to do more through the tax system higher up, you
know, the income distribution if, indeed, we want to try to be able to
facilitate a better work-family balance and do that through, you
know, shorter work weeks. I know there’s some models, several which
are in the Netherlands, which had — you know, tried to do more with coming up
with formulas that prorate wages but in a way that it’s not the — the loss isn’t
so great, and that’s something that I’m trying to learn more about myself. Yes.>>I’m not entirely sure how to ask
this question, but I have a question. One of the problems you clearly indicated is that being a single mother makes
managing family and work very difficult. One of my perceptions that may or may not
be correct is that, when you’re on welfare, that’s a requirement that you be
single; but as you go off welfare, that’s not a requirement, obviously. And so I’m wondering if there’s —
as you look at sort of what some of your people were thinking and doing over
this ten-year period, is there any indication that either going off welfare
encouraged two-adult families to sort of reconvene or rejoin. Or is there any indication that some
of the single women realize that, if there were two adults in the household,
life would be a little bit easier; and so that was maybe one of
their goals or objectives.>>Well, certainly many women
realized that, if there were two adults in the household, life would be a lot easier. To the extent that the welfare system
itself, you know, was a disincentive to form those partnerships,
really, I would say not. And I think the research
evidence of welfare as a — as a disincentive to marriage
just really isn’t there. And there’s been a number of studies
that were launched after welfare reform to really explore more closely what it is
that goes on in these very types of families where there is a single mom, what happens
to that relationship, and look that more through the relationship lens rather
than through the welfare lens. A few women — a number of women in
the WES did get married over time. In a companion qualitative
study to this one, a colleague and I also conducted in-depth interviews
with about 35 women who did get married to talk about, like, exactly what you’re
talking about, what were some of the reasons. And one women out of the 35 knew that if she got
married that probably she wouldn’t get Medicaid. She had some idea that there was
some benefits that she would lose. But all of the other women, their reasons
for getter married had to do with, you know, I finally met someone who seemed
like he’d be a good companion. He gets along with my kids. You know, we have similar goals, you know,
the types of things we might think that are — you know, that are good reasons to partner
up and not really the welfare system. Yes.>>So there’s been some national
rumblings, I guess, on the urban policy side with Bruce Katz coming out of the
Brookings Institute sort of looking at these metro nations, revitalizing
urban centers, especially Midwest. I know he’s done a lot of work in Ohio. That brings to mind, you know, change in
different policies, transportation policy and looking at labor policy
or labor and gender policy, allowing for more flexible time with work. Do you see this happening, or are you — are any labor policy restrictors thinking
along those lines or doing any work along that?>>Well, I think — I’ve seen just, you know,
slow movement, you know, inch at a time. Ten years ago at organizations that
did a lot of policy advocacy work around issues affecting low-income families,
you would never read about or hear these types of issues you’re talking about, like, flex time
or more working at home or some of these other. It was all about, you know, how do we — you
know, how do we best get women into jobs, how do we support them but not much about, you
know, addressing care giving responsibilities. These days — and I can speak of one
particular organization, the Center For Law and Social Policy which has long been
an advocate for low-income families, this is one of their key issues that
they focus on is work-family balance. So I do think it’s moving along, probably not
what the speed some of us would like to see it. But sometimes these things happen that way. Fred.>>I had a — I have a question about how
people are accounting for care in the sense of you mentioned that — I think you mentioned
that in some cases it seems that people with younger kids didn’t seem to talk as much
about caring arrangements as some of the people as the older kids or something like that.>>Well, most of the women
in the study had older kids. So, yeah. It wasn’t a point
of discussion really at all.>>Okay. Because I was wondering whether or not
there was a difference in terms of having older versus younger kids or a mix of kids
or even the timing and your life course when you start having kids that might have
something to do with the way you account for setting up caring arrangements. So I was wondering whether or not there
were different accounts that were offered about the way they’re setting
up these caring arrangements.>>I mean, I don’t have a
whole lot of cases, obviously. But 26 to 46 was the age range
of women, and the difference in women’s ages was not something
that jumped out to me at all. You know, possibly the reason for the
similarities about how they talked about care giving arrangements was that
the ages of their kids were very similar, and that could definitely be true. What I was really struck by
when I started this question — started this project, my research
question really was, well, you know, how are women thinking about
employment advancement. You know, that was sort of the central issue. I didn’t really ask a whole lot initially about
this whole, you know, work-family balance issue. That came up in like the first three
interviews that I did, and I realized, you know, this might be something to explore further
and then started probing a lot more on that. So that was something people offered up
to me and not something I necessarily was, you know, really interrogating them about. Yes.>>I’m curious about their attitudes,
particularly the ones that were on welfare before the reform and then
afterwards what their thought was on — I guess their attitudes towards work and their
attitudes towards welfare before and after.>>It’s interesting. There were a couple of women who really
did attribute welfare reform as, you know, that was really the reason they — one, Jackie even said she had got
off her butt and went to work. For a couple of women, it made them
report work they were already doing and maybe work a little bit more
than they were already doing. But welfare as a general, you know, topic,
also not something I asked about directly and sort of asked about it indirectly. What could government do more
of to help support your family? But it just — it wasn’t on people’s minds. Welfare reform wasn’t on people’s minds. The current welfare system wasn’t. You know, a few of them were
still getting food stamps. Some were getting Medicaid for their kids. But they didn’t really sort of see themselves
as attached to the welfare system anymore. They were workers. Eric.>>One of your suggestions is that you think that EITC [inaudible] is a
one-time lump sum payment. Do you think that it should continue to be
paid like that, or should we look at other ways to possibly do it, like on a quarterly basis? Or instead of having, you know, $4,800
in March, they’ll have $2,000 in March, 2000 in June, something like that?>>So the EITC — and, Sheldon,
you can correct me if I’m wrong — people can opt to have it paid out over the
course of a year or over quarters, one or both. Most people don’t do that. So that option already exists. You know, there’s some argument that if the
EITC in whole was larger people might have more of an incentive to take it throughout the year. But I think it — my impression, again —
and this is from a new study I’m doing — is that people like the lump sum. You know, it’s something to look forward to. And also, you know, certainly now when people
in the low-wage job sector are bouncing around from job to job so much and experiencing
some, you know, not so insignificant spells of unemployment in between, maybe it
wouldn’t make sense to have it paid out over the 12 months and just
take it as a lump sum at the end. Susan.>>I would be interested in knowing whether
any of the interviews that you conducted with the women raised issues
around some of the other kinds of institutional supports
available for their children. So, for example, a number of the women that
you referred to were talking about they need to make sure they were there to support
their kids [inaudible] and to make sure that they were actively engaged
in positive ways after school. Did it come up whether there were concerns
about availability or help within the schools or after school or other kinds of organizations? And was that something that was
raised on the interviews in specific?>>No. You know, again, these
interviews were conducted in 2004. I should be clear about that. So a number of years ago when things,
you know, weren’t great economically but certainly a lot better than they are now. Most women didn’t really talk about that. A few of them would talk about,
well, there were certain activities in which their kids had a
hard time participating because of the fees associated with them. But, for the most part, I think women felt
like they had a full range of activities. And I was actually — when I
started hearing this, you know, the dialogue that you got was a lot of
like a lot of soccer mom kind of talk. I take my kid to this practice, and
then we go here, then we go there. And it didn’t sound to me any different than
like some of the qualitative work you read on middle- and upper-income women. Again, if I can reference the current study
I’m working on, that is a huge concern. And these are women who are living
in Detroit and being able — there almost are no after
school opportunities anymore. And parking, recreational
programs have shut down. And the few that are out there are
just, you know, beyond their reach. So in this current economic climate with a similar demographic group,
yes, it is definitely coming up. Yeah. Luke.>>Could you talk a bit more about how
they’re thinking about higher education but it was something a lot of them
were thinking about for the future, mainly because I don’t need to
know the literature very well, but my understanding is different
types of views of higher education that lead to vastly different outcomes. So actually getting a degree is, you know,
worth a lot more than going or, you know, associate’s and bachelor’s degree. So what type of education
are they thinking about?>>Yeah. So I would group women
into sort of two categories on this. One were women who had already had some
education under their belt to begin with; you know, had some experience with
different postsecondary programs, you know, maybe a certificate program or two. Maybe they were already on the way
to having an associate’s degree. Those women, if they hadn’t completed an
associate’s degree, really knew that, like, that was sort of the minimum, that the
certificates that they received really in the end weren’t worth a whole
lot more in the labor market. And so some would say, if I knew, you know,
then what I know now, I would have just gone for the associate’s degree and, you know,
forgotten about these various certificate or vocational programs along the way. The other set of women — and these are the ones who really had a difficult time
articulating what they might do — really didn’t have a good
notion of what, you know, what the range of programs
were that were out there. So in our survey we asked at every survey
wave — and there were five of them — in the last 12 months since the last interview,
have you completed any additional training or college or a whole variety
of training options. And I, you know, compared people’s responses
in the qualitative to their survey answers, and I found there’s a — there were a number of
women who reported, yes, I got more education. I got more training. But what they had done was they had taken, like,
a food safety course because they had to take that for their job in a restaurant. So — or they had to take CPR because
they worked, you know, in a nursing home. And those are not — those
are great things to have, but they’re not really going to
help you in the labor market. So they really did not have any sense of
differentiation about what different degrees are or much of a sense of you want to go
to X community college and you want to avoid these proprietary institutions which
will just, you know, take a lot of money. So really no good sense at all. [ Pause ] Yes.>>Well, if the goal of Work First
slogan was jobs, better jobs, career, do you think it failed in the sense that
career was either not chosen or not obtained?>>So I’ll answer that two ways. Yes, it failed. But I’m not actually sure that that
mantra was an actual goal of the programs as it was a slogan to make people who actually
show up to the program feel better about it. You know, a lot of that caseload
decline that you see is because people went to work first and got a job. A lot of it was people were told they had
to show up at this program and were, like, I can — I can get a job on my own. I know how to do the stuff that
they’re going to do, teach me in there. So I will just go off myself. And for some women, just, you know, the
ones who have the mental health problems, the ones who have multiple challenges,
they are an increased likelihood to just dropped off altogether and not
found jobs at all, and there’s nothing in the safety net there to pick them back up. Yes.>>Speaking of that, did you run into anybody who had been homeless or
was homeless at the time?>>Not with the in-depth interviews. But, again, I purposefully selected women
who had more stable employment histories, so they were likely not to
have experienced homelessness. Certainly homelessness and evictions
happened to women in our study more broadly. And it could also be that other women
were homeless but had just moved in with a family member or a
friend for a short period of time. A lot of — they were only now understanding how
difficult it can be in surveys to pick up a lot of these changes and situations that can
happen pretty rapidly and be very dynamic and, you know, might be homelessness, but women themselves might not
consider themselves homeless. Yeah.>>I’m just wondering about also
off-the-books support that women do. So is it — did any of them talk about whether
they were taking up off-the-books types of housekeeping or other types of
work because it might be that some of the informal work might help to account
for their willingness to forego better jobs because they can supplement that income
in other ways that are off the books? And similarly with caring arrangements, it
also seems to me there might be other types of informal types of caring arrangements
that they might be able to tap into that they might not
even call it child care. So there might be other types of arrangements
that aren’t accounted as child care, but they serve the function of child care. I was wondering whether or not you were able
to get into any of that qualitative work?>>So on the off-the-books piece, I
think there were two women among these 32 who were doing off-the-books
intermittent things like mowing lawns. I can’t remember what the other women was doing. But they were doing that because they
really did have great steady work. So Mayline, you know, who gets
paid $130 a week to take care of her grandmother, she said that was her job. That was her job. But, then, on the side, she also did some child
care because her job just didn’t pay her enough. The other women, though, no. And I would say it was probably
because they didn’t have the time. You know, they were working 35
to 40 hours a week and off — you know, if you want to spend quality time with
your kids, where are you going to find the time to do that off-the-books
or kind of informal work? On the — you know, the issue of more
informal child care arrangements, yeah. I think that probably was going on. Women certainly did talk about, like, you
know, swapping, trading off with a sister where sister could pick up her kids
on the day she had to work late. I more heard about it, though, in
that that was what I used to do. But then I noticed my sister
wasn’t paying attention to their homework, so now I have to watch them. Sarah.>>So there’s been a lot of attention
to the declining [inaudible] of men, particularly less educated, less skilled
men in the labor force in the United States as there’s rightfully been
a lot of attention to women. And I was thinking about your policy options
and wondering whether some of these changes or some of these policy lovers
would actually help them as well. So if you could speak a little to that,
I know it’s not at all what you do, but it’s kind of interesting to think about how there could be broader spill-over
effects making some of these changes for men who are having a really hard time
in this labor market, as well.>>Well, interestingly enough, on
Friday, I was at a whole day workshop on how to reconnect disconnected men. So I feel like I now know a little bit more
about that than I certainly did on Thursday. Certainly, you know, changes to higher
education could help men in the same, you know, in terms of financial aid packages could
help similarly situated men as women, especially if they’re trying to
juggle work with going to school. You know, and you might also — there are —
there’s definitely been a lot of discussion about doing some changes to the earned
income tax credit so that men who — you have to be the custodial parent in
order to claim it, so men who are dads but don’t have the kids living
with them can’t claim it. So we could think about changing the EITC
so that men could also get a bonus too. There’s a lot of complications about
that and issues about what do we do if they’re not paying formal child support, but I think there are probably
ways that that can get hashed out. And on the shorter work week, you know, the
hope is that that sends a message to men also that they can and should be equal care
giving partners with their children.>>But just [inaudible] what’s happened is
that men have lost mostly manufacturing jobs that were, in fact, full-time higher wage,
and women have not been in that category. So, of course, more men are
losing those jobs now. Women are much more likely to be
employed part-time and in positions that aren’t even counted in terms of welfare
or after layoff resource is provided. So it’s not exactly so rosy.>>Although if you’re — particularly a young
African-American male coming out of prison or otherwise have a criminal record,
things are not looking so good for you. Eric.>>One of the articles that was read
in class talked about scaled payments for women based on the age of the child. Do you think that’s something
we can actually implement here in the United States or that
we should implement?>>What article are you talking
about now [laughter]? It’s very embarrassing [laughter].>>Basically, it was that [inaudible].>>Yeah. Oh, right. Yes, yes. I don’t know. I’m not sure that — that that’s
necessarily the right way to go because there are these other costs,
right, these costs or benefits, depending on the lens you’re
looking at it, just the time. And even if young children cost more in
dollar figures because you have to put them in formal child care, it doesn’t mean that we
should necessarily treat older kids differently when it is true that their mothers want to —
want to participate in their lives just as much. Kerry.>>I’m curious in your conversations with your
interviewees whether or not you got a sense of their knowledge of the system, especially
after they had left the welfare rolls if they had an emergency come up or came
across other barriers to employment whether or not they were able to access
services or knew where to go to be able to maintain their employment
instead of having a span where they had to quit or some other sort of –>>So, no, not really. And part of that I think stems
from the fact that they’d been out of the welfare system for
quite some number of years. But also because they had been part of the
welfare system, I got a very strong sense that public systems outside of
education but public systems that we in the policy community think of as being
out there to help and to assist were viewed with some amount of suspicion, either
being too invasive to one’s privacy, wanting too much information,
or just not providing the kind of assistance that they thought they needed. So, you know, if I were going
to suggest something to — for example, like the workforce
development sector, I would say, you know, you need to do some more
marketing and just get the word out and also maybe change —
change the image a little bit. Yes.>>I had two questions. First is about who conducted the 32 qualitative
interviews and second is about the way that questions were framed about the
time bind between work and family. And the reason I’m asking these questions is for
the first question there may be some distance in the social identity, the class and race
and education backgrounds of the interviewers and interviewees and sort of a process
where interviewees are miming the things that they think that people want to
hear about family values and work ethic. And the second question also has
to do with that, how questions may or may not have been framed in getting
respondents to fixate on that time bind as opposed to other challenges
that they may have been facing.>>Fair enough. So I did the majority of the interviews. And I primarily — one other graduate — no, two other graduate students
who kind of helped do the rest. So these women, though, had been interviewed
since 1997 by women who were hired through the Survey Research Center here at U of
M. By and large, these tended to be other women from that community who sort of
looked like them socioeconomically. And when we came in, no one — I
mean, I didn’t hide it if I was asked, but I was just assumed to
be another interviewer. You know, because it would be like, well, you’re
different than the one who came last time. So, you know, I was — like I said,
I was not going to lie about that. But people did just seem to assume that. We did try to do some matching on
race, but that didn’t always work out. On the second issue, like I said, my
primary question coming into this was not about the time bind at all,
and that was really, again, something that came up more spontaneously. I think we had one question at the
very end of the interview, you know, that was something about, like, you know, how
does having a family make it difficult to work. But that was at the very end, and that was after
sort of all these issues had really brewed up. So it made me, you know, think that there
is something to grounded theory [phonetic]. [ Pause ]>>Well, thank you very much, first
of all, to all of you joining us. We do have copies of Kristin’s book. So [inaudible] book store has brought them, and we have a reception and
a book signing to follow. But I’d also invite you to help me thank
Kristin for giving a window on a very important and interesting set of issues and some
of the insights from her new book. So thank you very much.>>Thank you. [ Applause ] [ Silence ]

Daniel Yohans

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