Panel Paper: Understanding the Dynamics of Disconnection from Employment and Assistance: Findings from a Qualitative Study of Low-Income, Single Mothers

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 9:30 AM
Santa Ana (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Heather Sandstrom1, Kristin Seefeldt2 and Pamela Loprest1, (1)Urban Institute, (2)University of Michigan
Information on families disconnected from work and welfare is of great interest to policy makers. Disconnected families are typically defined as eligible for TANF but not receiving it while also not reporting earnings. How these families manage economically has remained somewhat a puzzle. Research conducted over the last decade has shown that a small but growing number of individuals with children are disconnected. This paper uses newly gathered qualitative data from in-depth interviews conducted in 2013 with 22 predominantly African American, single mothers residing in Southeast Michigan and 29 primarily Latina immigrant mothers of young children living in Los Angeles.  The paper addresses the questions: (1) How do women view the experience of disconnection? What role do structural issues, personal challenges, and TANF policy and office practice play in becoming disconnected?; (2)What strategies do women employ to manage financially? What role do social support networks and the public safety net play in families’ attempts to “make ends meet”? and (3) What types of material hardships do these families face and how do they respond? Perspectives from different groups of women are captured, including those who: lost benefits due to time limits; have experienced long-term unemployment; and are immigrants with citizen children. The latter group is of particular interest, since immigrants have not been a focus of studies on the disconnected, despite the growing importance of this demographic group.