Education, self-esteem can help decrease welfare use

April 09, 2009

University Park, Pa. -- If Pennsylvania’s divorced single mothers are to decrease their dependence on welfare programs, an enhanced, education-oriented approach to public assistance programs is needed, according to a study conducted by a researcher in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. 

The study, "Results of an Assessment of the Educational Needs of Divorced Single Mothers in Pennsylvania," was initiated by J. Lynne Brown, professor of food science, for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania to examine the community-assistance programs used most by single mothers and their attitudes toward each program.

"The community assistance programs most used by these women were domestic relations, welfare and food stamps," says Brown. While these programs may not serve all their needs, many women continue to use them because they are afraid to utilize the more effective, yet unfamiliar programs available, she says.

Among women using assistance programs, those with higher income associated more stigma with welfare programs and less stigma with child-feeding programs. Women with less income associated a moderate stigma with welfare and emergency programs and a low stigma with child-feeding programs. For both income brackets, using a program decreased its perceived stigma.

Reactions to workfare -- forms of welfare that require work as a condition of receiving aid -- differed between women based on their experience and education level. Current program users believe that strict rules and job competition will prevent them from supporting their children under this system.

According to Brown, "the women felt that divorced mothers needed help improving their self-esteem along with subsidized child care, transportation, job training, and money management and parenting skills to avoid using welfare."

As a result of the findings, researchers released recommendations for ways that policymakers can enhance the success of workfare while reducing dependence on welfare.

--Set more lenient eligibility rules for workfare. Allowing single mothers to be qualified for subsidized childcare while working, saving money and owning a vehicle would build self-esteem and provide the resources needed to avoid welfare programs.

--Increase awareness of human-service referral agencies and programs on a local and state level.

--Increase job opportunities in rural areas for everyone, not just those on workfare. Minimizing job competition gives all members of the community the chance to improve their social standing.

--Form partnerships with local agencies to provide programs on money and conflict management, communication and divorce adjustment along with job training to improve life-management skills of divorced women.

The study suggests that divorced, single mothers who increase their life skillsare better able to transition into the workforce with a current knowledge of necessary job skills and renewed self-esteem. "We believe that implementing these recommendations would enhance the success of workfare and reduce these women’s need for welfare," says Brown.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 09, 2009