Not By Jobs Alone

David Pacchioli
January 01, 2003

" It was the toughest visit I have ever had," Linda Burton said quietly. Burton, Penn State professor of human development and family studies, had just returned from Chicago's west side, and a public-housing high-rise of the sort that was made famous—infamous—in the 1991 book There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz.

woman sitting with baby
Jason Yarington

Welfare recipients are mostly young women, almost all with dependent children.

“I've been working up close and personal with families and poverty for 20 years,” she said. “I've been to funerals of babies buried at seven weeks old, where the coffin was so small they carried it out of the church like a picnic basket. But there was something about this visit that just got me to the core.”

She smiled wanly. “These high-rises are in the process of being torn down, so many of the apartments are vacant. But I kept thinking, Why aren't they all vacant? Why are these kids running around in these narrow dark hallways with drug dealers? Smiling children and drug dealers.

“I didn't feel threatened. It was just the contradiction of it all. One of our young mothers was recounting the deaths of two children just a week before. A ten-month-old baby had died of pneumonia. She said it so matter-of-factly: ‘The mother, she's acting a little crazy right now, but I guess that's what happens when your baby dies.' The other child fell out of his bunk bed—six floors to his death. He just rolled out the window. If you see how the projects are built, you can understand how that could happen.

“It just got me to the core this time, the reality of the disparity in human experience. It was like transcending these two universes that were totally unconnected. It raised a question in my mind that seemed naïve: How can this other America continue to exist?”

The Other America. It was 40 years ago that Michael Harrington's eponymous book helped launch the U.S. “War on Poverty.” There have been many battles fought in the ensuing decades, and many arguments over strategy based on disagreement over poverty's root causes. The war has not been won.

Our most recent national tactic, after decades of failed federal-assistance programs, is what supporters see as a tough-love approach. Its centerpiece: “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act,” passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in October 1996. This “welfare reform” act shifted authority for administering public assistance to the individual states. Broadly, it ended the concept of “entitlements,” placing strict lifetime limits on the receipt of benefits and requiring recipients to work in exchange for assistance. The rationale is to force people now getting welfare—mostly women, many of them unmarried and almost all with dependent children—to take responsibility for working themselves out of poverty.

In narrow economic terms, the act has been a striking success. Between 1995 and 2000, the national welfare rolls were reduced by half. Over a million young mothers found at least part-time employment. On the other hand, two-thirds of these former welfare recipients report earnings that are below poverty level. And 40 percent of those women who have been removed from the rolls have not managed to find jobs.

So the debate continues. Is welfare reform really helping to eradicate poverty? What kind of impact, positive or negative, is this major shift in policy having on the lives of struggling families?

To come up with any kind of meaningful answer, Burton argues, you have to dig beyond the political rhetoric and the stereotypes. You have to observe, as closely as possible, the complex reality of people's lives.

The welfare reform act scared a lot of people. Because it represented a radical change in course— “ending welfare as we know it” was the political tagline—the federal government earmarked a considerable amount of research money for evaluating the law's effects. Among the several large studies that were commissioned, one of the largest is “Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three-City Study,” administered out of Johns Hopkins University, and including collaborators from Northwestern, the University of Texas, Harvard, Brandeis, the University of North Carolina, and Penn State.

little girl pushes sister in stroller
Jason Yarington

One important focus of the Three City ethnography is children; another is the low-income neighborhoods that shape families, lives.

The Three-City study, as Burton explains it, seeks to understand the effects of welfare reform on the wellbeing of children and families, and to follow these families as welfare evolves. “What's unique about our study,” she says, “is the focus on children.”

The research team includes developmental psychologists, economists, anthropologists, and sociologists working in Boston, San Antonio, and Chicago, cities chosen for their differences in region, ethnic mix, and welfare program rules. To provide as complete a picture as possible, the project includes three overlapping components: a repeated survey of some 2,400 families in randomly selected low-income neighborhoods; a developmental study measuring psychological milestones in over 600 children from the survey sample; and an in-depth ethnographic study of 256 families.

Burton, co-principal investigator of the ethnography component, has been studying the roots and effects of poverty since she was a graduate student at the University of Southern California in the early 1980s. Her work has always centered on the lives of urban families—most recently on teenage pregnancy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and other northeastern cities. Her academic pursuit is informed by her own upbringing in a poor neighborhood in south central Los Angeles. (“What growing up in a low-income high-risk environment did for me was help me to understand nuanced behaviors,” she says.) In 1997, Burton won the Faculty Scholar Medal for outstanding achievement at Penn State. In 1998, she was named director of the Center for Human Development and Family Research in Diverse Contexts, which administers projects funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and is based in University Park.

For Burton, ethnography—close systematic observation “in the trenches”—is crucial to understanding poverty. “As an ethnographer,” she says, “at some level, you taste, hear, see, smell, feel it. People who study poverty from afar have a different perspective.” But studying poverty up close holds special challenges. “It's so hard to find that balance, to use the language that reflects the severity of the issue without being dismissed as non-scientific.” For the Three City study, these challenges are amplified by the sheer scale of the effort: Along with sociologist William Julius Wilson of Harvard, Burton is directing a team of 210 interviewers and data coders in what she calls “the largest ethnography of its kind ever attempted.”

Wilson's focus is the low-income neighborhoods that shape families' lives: exploring the institutional resources and social networks that foster—or thwart—community and opportunity. Burton's responsibility is the families themselves. For three years, her field team, via frequent visits and in-depth interviews, has followed the fortunes of both welfare recipients and working poor as they negotiated the various rules and regulations of a brand-new system.

Keeping track of 256 families has taken an immense and creative effort in logistics. “There was no road map for a study this big,” Burton says. “A lot of the needs unfolded as we went along.” One thing that quickly became clear was the need for an effective communications system linking ethnographers at multiple sites—with each other, with site coordinators and project leaders, and with data analysts back at Penn State, where all the data would be archived. Regular multi-city conference calls and e-mail lists became important elements in “a system whereby people can stay engaged, and do reality checks, and share what they are experiencing,” Burton says.

The points of contact with the families, almost all of which include children between two and four years old, are the primary caregivers, the women Burton calls “our moms.” “We visit them a couple of times a month, go with them to welfare offices, on doctors' visits, to schools, to pick up their kids, to McDonald's,” she explains. “We go to family reunions and birthday parties. Basically, we become a part of the extended family.”

To coordinate the efforts of so many ethnographers from varied academic backgrounds, Burton and her colleagues devised a method she calls “structured discovery.” Each interview, she explains, is loosely based around a set of guidelines related to a topic area of interest. “But the interviews don't always follow them closely. Once you start to get to know the families, they begin to tell you what is important. We wanted to leave room for that kind of flexibility.”

Each interview is written up in a standard format, and sent electronically to Penn State. By the time collecting is done, estimates project coordinator Alan Benjamin, “We will end up with 5,000 field notes averaging from six to eight pages each. So we'll have over 35,000 pages of written material.”

To organize that much information and make it accessible, every paragraph of every note is assigned a code based on its subject matter. “We code for things like family conflict, child nutrition, intimate relationships, education,” roughly 60 categories in all, Burton says. Then the note is entered into a searchable archive.

One early challenge was recruiting enough families to participate—a long-term commitment that would mean sharing the intimate details of their lives. Typically, ethnographers first made contact with local social-service agencies, building trust with agency staff and then with the families they served. A persistent difficulty, says Ann Kuta, an ethnographer working in Chicago, was recruiting enough European-American families—not because there were none, but because, having more housing options than African-Americans or Hispanics, white families tend to be scattered throughout neighborhoods and are therefore harder to find. As a result, although Burton set out to include equal numbers of African-American, Hispanic, and European-American families, the final percentages turned out to be 38, 42, and 20, respectively.

As the study enters the phase of heavy data analysis, other challenges have emerged. “This isn't like working with survey data,” says Tera Hurt, a fifth-year graduate student at Penn State and a key member of Burton's team. “Ethnography builds from the ground up. Everything is little details until you can tie them together. It takes a lot of time to understand the rhythms of a family, get a sense of patterns in the data—to understand not only lived experience but the connections between one thing and another. It's all a part of creating the—I don't want to say ‘storyline,' because that doesn't sound scientific—of getting at the context that might explain decisions or behaviors.

“The benefit of having such rich data,” she adds, “is that I'm better able to articulate relationships—between things, between people. It helps us understand the why of things.”

The Three City project office in downtown Chicago is a small suite on Michigan Avenue, across from the Chicago Art Institute. In the conference room, several floors above the hustle of pedestrians, a large color-coded map shows low-income neighborhoods in yellow and green.

woman in white tee with son
Jason Yarington

Access to safe, affordable child care is a continuing challenge for working mothers.

The day before, Stephen Matthews, a Penn State research associate and geographer, and Monica McManus, an anthropologist and the Chicago site director, had toured West Town, a neighborhood in flux. A Puerto Rican cultural center there, an anchor for social services and political activism for 25 years, was in the process of moving out, following the shift of the Puerto Rican population to other neighborhoods in the city.

“West Town is gentrifying,” Matthews explained. “People are moving in from the suburbs. People who can afford $140,000 for a one-bedroom condominium.”

“Our families face this issue of displacement at so many levels,” Burton said. “They might move several times in the course of a year.”

The ever-shifting quality of low-income neighborhoods is something that is very hard to pick up with an occasional survey, Burton added. “In such a dynamic context, the demographic data can be outdated, and it can be hard to get exact figures. Going out into the neighborhoods, seeing who is in the grocery stores, who's sitting on the porches, makes a big difference.”

Getting close enough to be accurate, in turn, can make it that much more difficult to step back and see the whole. “When you look at the big picture across the three cities, it seems like you need Dramamine or something,” Burton said. “Everything is spinning all the time. Even when you have the 200-some families in your head—and I do remember most of our families—you want to say, ‘Please stay still so that we can get the story right.' Things change so fast. This is an aspect that I think policymakers don't understand. How do you tell a story like that?”

One help is Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a multi-layered, information-rich computer mapping. Matthews, who runs the Geographic Information Analysis lab at Penn State's Population Research Institute, is one of the first to apply this powerful tool to ethnography. Combining census and property data available in public records with spatial information gleaned from field notes, he has mapped Three City neighborhoods with overlays of key resources, crime events, transportation routes, and the like, to recreate the context of a family's life. “We can break down a mother's activity according to time and space parameters,” he said: “trips to the doctor, to work, to child care.” He has even incorporated field notes keyed to a particular street corner, and hot links to anchor institutions like libraries and social-service agencies.

“The idea is, it helps the coders and researchers at remote sites to be able to visualize and better understand,” Matthews said. “It helps in drawing connections that might not otherwise be made, and to understand how families relate to their neighborhoods. It can also help policy-makers see what we're talking about.” (Burton agreed: “When Stephen shows one of his maps, policy-makers get it.”)

One of the reasons Matthews was in Chicago was to make one of his periodic ground-checks, reacquainting himself with the three-dimensional reality. His schedule called for visits to half a dozen neighborhoods, hosted by ethnographers who were currently working in them.

The first stop was Oakland, an African-American neighborhood on the near west side. Ten years ago, Oakland was awash in drugs and gang violence. After a concentrated effort to improve the neighborhood, however, including the tearing down of some particularly notorious high-rises by the Chicago Housing Authority, Oakland has been described by the Chicago Tribune as a neighborhood “on the mend.” But three weeks ago Oakland gained unwanted national attention following an incident in which two men who crashed a moving van into an apartment building and injured three women were dragged from the vehicle and beaten to death by an angry mob.

Exiting Lake Shore Drive at Oakland's eastern end, we passed a large park with a new jogging track. There was a feeling of openness, partly due to the large number of vacant lots, but also because of the wide streets and the freestanding townhouses, separated by small brown lawns. In some stretches whole blocks appeared badly blighted. A low, dark-brown public-housing complex with boarded windows looked almost abandoned.

Other streets were lined with old two- and three-story townhouses, sturdy structures with impressive limestone facades, and some with rows of brand-new condominiums. One of the older townhouses, the site of the van incident, had its crumbling front steps sequestered behind police tape. The street was quiet. Across the street children played in the park.

Outside a neighborhood soul-food landmark that had recently been closed by the Department of Public Health, ethnographer Beverly Betts gave the lay of the land. “There are no real jobs in this area,” she said. Nor, it seems, are there many commercial establishments of any kind.

The team drove on to South Shore, where Betts has lived her whole life. Residential streets there appeared more tightly packed together, but again “good” and “bad” blocks were interspersed like black and white keys on a piano. On the more prosperous-looking blocks, the apartment buildings sat behind security-wired iron fences.

“The low-income families are hidden here,” Betts said. “A typical rent is $700 for a two-bedroom apartment.” We passed a hospital, where Betts said she would not go if she needed care. Over the last 15 years, she said, drugs have ravaged the neighborhood she once knew. It's not as bad as it was in the 1990s, but “people stay to themselves now.”

The way to Englewood, the next stop, was along an extended commercial strip dominated by hair salons, barbeque joints, and storefront churches. Englewood has been plagued in recent years by high levels of joblessness and violent crime. It has been targeted for revitalization by then-President Bill Clinton, who visited in 1999, and by current Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley. One concern of neighborhood activists, according to the investigative monthly Chicago Reporter is the lack of mental-health care available, especially for kids exposed to too much violence.

This is the neighborhood where Carolyn Tubbs spent a year as an ethnographer. Tubbs, a marriage-and-family therapist and a post-doctoral fellow at Penn State who was not on today's tour, described her experience this way: “Most of the other ethnographers were recruited from the cities in question, not outsiders like me. So one of the major issues for me was letting go of the fears that others had given me about the dangers I would face.

“The next challenge was to develop a rapport.” To do so she went to a local childcare center and volunteered. “I became the official photographer, and helped with the computers,” she said. After a while, “the children began to be receptive, and then their mothers started to acknowledge me.”

Once she had recruited a handful of young mothers who were willing to be studied she often had to catch up to them to interview them. “These mothers aren't one-dimensional people. They are leaders—active in the community. They volunteer. They work. I won't say that was a surprise, but it was a nice affirmation of who they were.” In order to get a better feel for the daily experiences of her mothers, most of whom did not own cars, Tubbs used only public transportation to get around. “We have many mothers in the study who spend four and five hours a day on trains and buses,” she said, traveling to and from work, daycare, the welfare office, and the health clinic.

In Bridgeport, the gritty East European and Irish (and increasingly Mexican and Asian) neighborhood that produced the city's iconic mayor Richard J. Daley, another ethnographer, Maria Kroll, waited in a Lithuanian restaurant. Like Betts, Kroll had grown up on the streets she was now studying. “We used to eat here when I was a kid,” she remembered. “The only thing that's new is the newspaper reviews on the wall.”

two woman standing outside fish store
Jason Yarington

These families wanted to work, they struggled to work," one researcher reported. "But the employment they were able to find was usually unstable, low-wage work without access to medical insurance or other basic benefits. It did not protect these families from the need for public services.

Thanks to a new subway stop, and a convenient on-ramp to the Dan Ryan Expressway, Bridgeport has good access to the downtown area. As a result, Kroll explained, it is starting to be regarded as desirable by developers. So a cluster of luxury townhouses—with names like “Drexel” and “Wentworth”—is going up on the banks of Bubbly Creek, the local name for the south fork of the Chicago River. Bubbly Creek was once a dumping ground for the famed Chicago stockyards, Kroll said, which was said to account for its bubbling. The last of the stockyards is closed, but the pervasive smell and the bubbles live on.

A few blocks away from the “No Trespassing” signs that guard the new development, another city housing project rang with the voices of children playing in the hot concrete yard. In the middle of the vacant lot that once held the community garden, a small boy held up a garter snake as a trophy.

On the day after the neighborhood tour, a crowd of 250 sociologists gathered in the Chicago Palmer House Hilton to hear the leaders of the Three City ethnography team present “Not By Jobs Alone,” a special session at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

The fieldnotes and other data were still coming in. The mountain already assembled in the archive at University Park had hardly been scratched. But after three years of study, some major outlines were becoming clear.

James Quane of Harvard University spoke about the effects of “devolution,” the increasing downshifting of responsibility for social services, first from the federal government to the states, and then from the states to local entities. Devolution can have positive effects, Quane said. But whether it does depends heavily on the “sometimes tenuous” quality of local institutions, which are frequently underresourced and easily overwhelmed.

“The neighborhood approach means a changed relationship between service providers and clients,” he said. “Service providers have to take the role of advocates as well as administrators. They can't just enforce rules from above.” This local responsibility can facilitate the delivery of services, he said. Neighborhood advocates can be especially helpful in breaking through the barriers of social isolation that can keep families in poverty. They can help low-income clients to see a world beyond their neighborhoods, and act as an intermediary between neighborhood residents and potential employers.

But the success of the neighborhood approach depends on resources that are not always reliable, and on the vision and energy of individual community leaders who may or may not be up to the task, Quane noted. In talking with service providers, he and his colleagues found that some of these professionals are comfortable with their new authority, but others are not. In addition, “a lot of the most important work they do goes unrecognized and unsupported.” Celeste Watkins, an ethnographer for the Boston site who has studied the culture of the city's welfare offices, found that social workers there have little incentive to take on the added responsibility for helping families make a successful transition to work, “since the only thing they are evaluated on is how accurately and efficiently they process paperwork, monitor time limits, and move families off the rolls.”

Laura Lein of the University of Texas at Austin, senior ethnographer and director of the San Antonio site, talked about patterns of employment among low-income families. “A lot of effort has gone into finding these families jobs,” she said. “But what kinds of jobs are they finding?” Analyzing 155 cases, she and her colleagues identified five basic patterns, and sketched an example of each.

“Silvia,” an example of sustained employment, is an 18-year-old mother of one who lives with her own mother and depends on her for daycare. During the course of the study, “Silvia” got a part-time job in a fast-food restaurant, moved to full-time work as a bank teller, and was eventually promoted. With lots of help from her family, and occasional public assistance, Lein said, she has been able to support herself and her child.

For “Mercedes,” an example of multiple employment, the road is a little harder. She is 41 and has three sons; she works full- and part-time jobs, a total of 70 hours a week, but still has trouble affording a place to live. She depends on subsidized child care and support from her father.

“Alicia,” who represents a pattern that Lein called “churning,” is a 17-year-old diabetic who has worked only sporadically over the last four years, in a fast-food restaurant. When she invited her mother to live with her in order to help with child care, “Alicia” was evicted from her public-housing apartment.

“Julianne” has no job, but also does not receive welfare benefits. She manages to survive on sporadic support payments from her ex-husband and Social Security disability.

Finally, “Nieves,” a 21-year-old, is an example of a mother who has no job and depends on welfare. In addition to caring for her own four children, she also looks after her sister's three and takes care of her ailing mother. “She is the stable center of a family that includes other adults who need support,” Lein said. She has been forced to move 11 times over the course of the study.

Lein concluded: “These families wanted to work, they struggled to work.” They needed to work: in Texas, the cash assistance available to a family of three is $188 per month. “But the employment they were able to find was usually unstable, low-wage work without access to medical insurance or other basic benefits. It did not protect these families from the need for public services.”

Constance Williams, a professor at Brandeis and a senior ethnographer in Boston, focused her remarks on the issue of child care: how family obligations often clash with the need to work. “Access to good affordable child care is a challenge to many families,” she acknowledged, “but it may be especially difficult for low-income families who work evening or night shifts, irregular hours, weekends, and who have little autonomy in their jobs.”

To manage both responsibilities, Williams reported, these families use many different strategies. Some send their children to live with relatives out of state or out of the country. Most rely heavily on family members. More than a few have had to choose between a job and leaving their children in an unsafe or unhealthy situation.

A woman named “Jamie,” whom Williams described as a success story, works night shift at a plant 30 miles from her home. She has changed jobs three times, each time receiving an increase in pay, and has thereby worked her way up to earning $13 an hour. She takes her children to her mother's while she works, and unlike most of the study participants, she owns a car. Still, “Jamie” has occasionally had to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

Following Williams's presentation, Burton detailed another obstacle to sustained employment: poor health. Over half of the families in the study report concurrent physical and mental health problems in both the primary caregiver and at least one child, she said. Common ailments among caregivers, 83 percent of whom were under 40 years old, include diabetes, heart disease, severe obesity, and arthritis, and these were often accompanied by depression and anxiety. Among children, she said, “we found serious conditions such as severe chronic asthma, seizures, or lead poisoning coupled with depression, autism, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

The women typically neglect their own health needs to keep working, she said, but many have lost jobs because of a child's health emergency. In addition, their health insurance coverage is extremely uneven. Even with Medicaid, 60 percent of the families in the study are either uninsured or only partially insured. In a significant number of families, some children are covered, while others are not.

For these families, Williams said, “the barriers to work are not once surmounted, then removed. They are daily hurdles.”

Welfare reform,” says graduate student Tera Hurt, is in many cases just one more obstacle in lives that are already full of them. “Its impact has been to add red tape.”

dark-haired girl with bangs and braid
Jason Yarington

"These mothers aren't one-dimensional people. They are leaders - active in the community."

She offers an example. “One of my moms has been trying to get her GED,” or highschool equivalency credit. “It's been postponed two or three times—she has five boys, and because of childcare or pregnancy or whatever, it's been put off. She's going back for the last time, this is it. Her partner is back from out of town, so she has reliable childcare. But she has only completed the seventh grade, so she has a long way to go.

“She was enrolled in a GED program that could deal with her special needs—the teachers were caring and responsive, the culture of the class was supportive—and she was doing well. But this particular program didn't meet the requirements under welfare reform because she didn't go to class enough hours a week. So she was forced to leave the program because she was three or four hours short.”

In Illinois, where the new system has removed some of the old disincentives to getting a job, says Chicago ethnographer Ann Kuta, “the slogan is ‘Work Pays.' But the unofficial slogan is ‘Get a Job Now.' The push at the welfare office is to get a job, any job, right now, my moms tell me. The jobs they get are quick, no-training, no benefits, not much skill necessary. But the work requirements make it difficult for them to find time for school so they might get something better.”

“We do have some families that were on the brink of going off welfare anyway when the act was passed, and they are doing great things,” Burton says. “But they already were. Welfare reform just gave them a little nudge. These are people who may have been experiencing a temporary economic decline—loss of a job, a severe illness, the need to relocate—and welfare allowed them to get back on their feet and now they're off and running. But there are others that have more serious problems.

“One of my concerns is that we are going to lose track of the very poorest in America. Do we make people invisible by taking them off the welfare rolls? If you don't have a family support system—and I think that policy-makers tend to romanticize the viability of these already overburdened families to provide support—I worry about the families that fall out of the system. Where do they wind up? What happens to them?”

Supporters of the welfare reform act like to point out that the disastrous results predicted by some of its opponents have not materialized. But it may be too early to tell, says William Julius Wilson. As Wilson pointed out at the American Sociological Association symposium, “Welfare reform occurred at the perfect time—during an unprecedented economic boom. There were plenty of jobs to be had. But in focusing on the increase in low-wage employment, policy-makers have tended to overlook the struggles of more vulnerable families even during a booming economy. What will happen during a period of economic stagnation?”

“The least equipped are the ones we worry about the most,” Burton says. “They can just disappear—and we keep good track of them, better than social services does. You can go to see a family on Friday and try to go back the next Monday and they'll be gone—that's how quickly poverty drives these shifts for families. So many of them experience what we call virtual homelessness—the mom is in one place, the kids are in other places, because there is no place that can accommodate them all. We have families that drop out of sight a lot, and show up again where they can all be together.”

Unfortunately, getting a job is not necessarily enough to stop the cycle. “People have tended to think either-or,” says Alan Benjamin. “You're either on welfare or you're working, and once you move off welfare to work you're hitting a new phase. That's not what we're seeing.

“People take one job for a while, switch to another, work part-time, odd hours. In reality, among low-income Americans in these three cities getting a job means something very temporary. They're still vulnerable to layoffs, changes in the economy, the whims of employers, health problems, family crises, breakdowns in childcare, any number of things.”

little girl with shiny eyes stars at camera
Jason Yarington

“Four out of five of my mothers are currently employed,” agrees Celeste Watkins, “but they are still in dire economic straits. Some are working 40 hours a week, others are working 20 hours with welfare supplementing, but none have been able to move themselves out of poverty. One incident —;somebody gets sick, a kid is having a particularly hard time in school, a relative staying at the house is causing trouble—can throw the family into an economic tailspin. You hear a lot in the welfare debate about women moving off the rolls and getting jobs, but the debate doesn't capture these fluctuations.”

“I think that sometimes all this discussion about welfare reform distills our attention away from dealing with the deeper issues,” Burton says. “Welfare is a part of the puzzle, but changing welfare doesn't begin to address the issues of poverty in our country across generations. What does poverty do to families and children? What are the factors that affect a person going on welfare in the first place?

“If you want people to be responsible, you have to give them resources. Everyone should have a right to a good education. To good healthcare. To a safe environment for the children.

“Getting at the heart of poverty is something that we, as a nation, have yet to do.”

Linda M. Burton, Ph.D., is professor of human development and family studies and sociology and director of the Center for Human Development and Family Research in Diverse Contexts in the College of Health and Human Development, 106 Henderson Bldg., University Park, PA 16802; 814-865-2642; William Julius Wilson, Ph.D., is University Professor and director of the Joblessness and Urban Poverty Research Center in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Burton and Wilson are co-principal investigators for the ethnography component of “Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three-City Study.” Alan F. Benjamin, Ph.D., is a research associate in the Population Research Institute at Penn State. Tera R. Hurt is a Ph.D. student in human development/family studies and demography. Stephen A. Matthews, Ph.D., is senior research associate and director of the Geographic Information Analysis Core in the Population Research Institute and associate professor of demography and sociology. Carolyn Y. Tubbs, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral researcher at Penn State. The ethnographic study received funding from a variety of federal and private sources, including: the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and the Kellogg Foundation. More information on “Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three-City Study” is available at

Last Updated January 01, 2003