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The Private Safety Net: The Role of Charitable Organizations in the Lives of the Poor
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As welfare reform unfolds, nonprofit social service agencies will increasingly be called upon to help fill the gap between what unskilled and semiskilled mothers can earn in the low-wage labor market and what they need to meet their monthly expenses. This article draws on in-depth interviews with low-income single mothers and multiyear observational studies of two nonprofit social service agencies. Using these data, the authors show what kinds of resources these agencies provide low-income single mothers, how mothers mobilize the resources available, to what degree agencies actually contribute to mothers’ cash and in-kind resources, how agencies distribute their resources, and what effect agencies’ distribution practices have on these women. The analysis shows that although nonprofit social service agencies are a crucial part of many low-income mothers’ economic survival strategies, they cannot come close to substituting for the eroding public safety net. (Authors)
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