Livermore, Michelle M., and Rebecca S. Powers. "Employment of Unwed Mothers: The Role of Government and Social Support." Journal of Family and Economic Issues
27.3 (2006): 479.
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This article investigates how government support and social support influence employment trends of unwed mothers. There has been a “culture of poverty” debate that stereotypes unwed mothers as having an anti-work attitude and as users of the system. Unwed mothers do face many barriers to employment like poor health, substance abuse, domestic violence, young age, no work experience, less than high school education, and many children. The unwed mothers with the higher potential for earnings and greater need for money were more likely to go back to work within 6 months of childbirth. This study hypothesizes that mothers with fewer barriers to employment and more support are more likely to be gainfully employed sooner.
This study focused on unwed mothers with infants because they have to balance employment with family demands. A national representative of unwed mothers in 16 urban cities was taken and interviews were collected. The baseline data was collected between February 1998 and September 2000 from mothers within three days of their child’s birth. The follow up interviews were conducted one year later. The re-interview rate was 89%. The dependent variable was maternal employment during first year after birth. The independent variables were governmental support and social support from family. Government support included TANF, food stamps, housing assistance, SSI, living in public housing, WIC, and use of an employment agency. Social support took the shape of financial support from somebody other than the baby’s father, borrowing money from family and friends, and moving in with family to save money. Some control variables included work-related measures such as prior earnings from work and educational level. Other things that might affect employment included age, race/ethnicity, health status, number of children, disabled child in the home, and number of other adults in the home.
Research questions include: Did unwed mother who expected to be employed become employed the year after the baby’s birth? Were unwed mothers who received various forms of government support more likely to be employed during the year following their baby’s birth than those who received less government support? Were unwed mothers who received various forms of instrumental social support more likely to be employed during the year following the birth of their baby than those who received less social support? Which work-related, personal, and household characteristics distinguished employed unwed mothers from those who were not employed?
The data was analyzed using descriptive statistics and then multivariate analysis.
79.8% of the mothers who expected to work found employment
Only 26.8% of the respondents received TANF, and 43.8% received food stamps.
Fourteen percent received government help to pay rent, and 20.8% lived in public housing.
Unwed mothers use social support more than any of the various types of government support.
Though many are not in traditionally defined family relationships, many unwed mothers have some support from their baby’s father.
Unwed mothers invested in education to some extent.
On average, 2.3 children and 0.1 other adults lived in the home.
Unwed mothers who received TANF, food stamps, or housing subsidy were less likely to be employed than mothers who did not receive these forms of assistance.
Mothers receiving SSI and living in public housing were less likely to be employed than those who did not.
WIC showed a positive association with employment.
Government support neither discouraged nor facilitated unwed mothers’ employment in the year following childbirth.
Unwed mothers who received financial or housing assistance from family and friends were more likely to be employed than those who did not receive this form of support.
Mothers receiving material support from the baby’s non-cohabiting father were slightly more likely to work than mothers receiving less support.
The number of adults in the household is negatively associated with mother’s employment, maybe indicating additional resources in the house that make employment less necessary.
Employment was more likely for those who had previous earnings in the past year and those with at least a high school diploma.
Employment was more likely for minority women than non-minority women.
Even though maternal employment is ideal, employment requires support for the mother. Since the majority of mothers planned to work after their child was born, this is in contrast to the stereotypical anti-work attitude associated with the culture of poverty argument. We also observe that these employment trends could simply be a part of the family life cycle, and could change as the children get older and go to school, needing different types of care. Assistance for mothers with infants could be a wise use of public funds so that families are supported. Social support is critical to employment and financial vulnerability.
CRITIQUE AND EVALUATION
This study argues there is a positive relationship between mother’s employment and various types of support. The availability of childcare could not be assessed when comparing workers and non-workers. The monetary support from fathers was not consistently recorded, and the consistency of employment or types of jobs mothers had was not collected either.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- Is there a difference between teenage unwed mothers and adult unwed mothers when it comes to employment?
- Why were certain types of government support positively associated with employment? Is it the eligibility or structure of the support that requires employment?
- How much of the social support from families offset the need for employment?
- What are the employment characteristics of the family and friends that these mothers borrow money from?
As the government reassesses how public support funds are used, lawmakers need to evaluate which programs support unwed mothers most effectively and empower them to be employed. Targeted nutrition programs, living assistance support, and resources at employment agencies tend to help mothers gain support. Certain social programs seem to either inhibit or discourage employment. Social support through family and friends are not factors that government support can influence, but those unwed mothers without those supports might be more dependent on government support. As welfare to work policies change, we should be concerned about how children will be affected and what services keep them healthy and safe while mothers work or seek employment.
Tamecia R. Jones cCYS