The Private Safety Net: The Role of Charitable Organizations in the Lives of the Poor

Kathryn Edin, Laura Lein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


As welfare reform unfolds, nonprofit social service agencies will increasingly be called upon to help fill the gap between what unskilled and semiskilled mothers can earn in the low-wage labor market and what they need to meet their monthly expenses. This article draws on in-depth interviews with low-income single mothers and multiyear observational studies of two nonprofit social service agencies. Using these data, the authors show what kinds of resources these agencies provide low-income single mothers, how mothers mobilize the resources available, to what degree agencies actually contribute to mothers' cash and in-kind resources, how agencies distribute their resources, and what effect agencies' distribution practices have on these women. The analysis shows that although nonprofit social service agencies are a crucial part of many low-income mothers' economic survival strategies, they cannot come close to substituting for the eroding public safety net.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-573
Number of pages33
JournalHousing Policy Debate
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Development
  • Urban Studies
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Neighborhood
  • Nonprofit sector
  • Welfare


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