Both sides of the Paycheck: Recommending Thrift to the Poor in Job Readiness Programs

Brian Hennigan, Gretchen Purser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This article documents how job readiness programs—as anchors of the devolved organizational landscape of neoliberal poverty governance in the United States—endeavor to instill within the poor not simply the virtue of work, but the virtue of thrift, and thus orient them to “both sides of the paycheck.” Using a comparative ethnographic study of two community-based, government-funded nonprofit job readiness programs, we show that this pedagogic focus on budgeting is central to the overall goal of conditioning clients to embrace and endure a degraded labor market. Recognizing that most participants will remain poor with or without low-wage employment, these programs suggest that it is as crafty consumers that participants may retake control of their lives. Despite the programs’ differing target populations and racialized and gendered logics, both attempt to accommodate participants to the dictates of the neoliberal economic order: jobs are hard to find and, even if you get one, wages will not be enough.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-406
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Sociology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2021


  • ethnography
  • job readiness
  • labor
  • neoliberalism
  • poverty governance
  • sociology
  • thrift
  • workfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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