A few years ago, she tried to go back to school, but the only classes that fit her schedule were online.It was tough to attend online classes and do school work while raising five kids and working part-time, so Davis ended up failing two semesters and quitting.“There was never any evidence that was the case.”The lack of good, steady jobs makes it clear why single mothers rely on “packaging strategies,” as Seefeldt and Sandstrom term them.Sometimes, these strategies become so entrenched that women don’t need to depend on assistance from the government at all, especially when there are numerous hurdles to clear in order for them to receive benefits.According to a recent “They trade, they bargain, they strategize, they give each other daycare help, they share housing and food—women learn to strategize their way through all of these resources,” Suzanne Morrissey, a professor at Whitman College who has studied these families, told me.Research suggests that while two-parent families may be isolated islands of efficiency, single parents—even poor ones—rely on an ever-expanding social network to get by.Ever since the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Law (generally referred to as welfare reform) placed time limits and work requirements on benefits in an effort to get welfare recipients back into the workforce, single-parent families have had a harder time receiving government benefits.
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According to the paper, published last month by Seefeldt and Heather Sandstrom with the Urban Institute, many women did move off the welfare rolls and into jobs after welfare reform went into effect.Unfortunately, many mothers who do find work are only one crisis away from losing that job.One broken car, one sick kid, one court date can upend the fragile system they’d created for themselves.“The mantra in Michigan was a job, a better job, a career: Through work you would experience upward mobility,” Seefeldt told me.Now, 35 percent of children live in single-parent households.
But while the numbers are growing, the amount of help available to single mothers is not.
Though the name implies otherwise, “disconnected” mothers are especially reliant on social networks.