Welfare reformers sought to reduce "dependency," or reliance on state-supported cash benefits and deployed a discourse of "self- sufficiency" to promote the legitimacy of efforts to remove welfare recipients from publicly funded cash assistance through either wage labor or marriage. We use longitudinal, qualitative interview data collected from 38 initially welfare-reliant women to examine what self-sufficiency means to them and their perspectives on how work and marriage affect their ability to be self-sufficient. Grounded theory analysis revealed that for these women, self-sufficiency means formal independence from both the state (i.e., Temporary Assistance to Needy Families [TANF]) and men (i.e., marriage). Although they value marriage as an institution and would ideally marry, they do not consider marriage to be a likely route to self-sufficiency given the pool of men available to them. Rather, they embrace their own market-based wage labor as the means by which they can attain some measure of independence. Taking our lead from the women in this study, we challenge the emphasis on marriage in current welfare policy. We argue that employment training that results in better jobs for women and men and work supports that make low-wage work pay are clearly the appropriate direction for policy aimed at the welfare-reliant and working poor.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science