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In 1992 the Better Homes Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts, began a study of 216 women in low-income housing and 220 homeless women, along with 627 of their dependent children. All these women in Worcester, Mass., were raising their families single-handedly, and the majority were receiving cash assistance. Despite this aid, most of the families lived below the federal poverty level ($12,156 for a family of three in 1995). We wanted to understand what had pushed some of these families into homelessness, what their lives were like and what role welfare--in their case, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)--played in their survival.

We found that these low-income women often faced insurmountable barriers to becoming self-supporting. Unlike popular stereotypes, most of the women who received welfare were neither teenage mothers nor the daughters of women who had been on welfare; they used welfare episodically, in times of crisis, rather than chronically. Despite limited education and the demands of child care-- the average age of their children was five and a half years--approximately 70 percent of them had worked for short periods. Yet the study revealed that even full-time employment at minimum wage is not enough to enable a single mother to climb out of poverty. Many of the housed mothers lived in extremely precarious circumstances, only one crisis away from homelessness. (Authors)
Journal
1996
Scientific American
275
4
60-67
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