Unstable work, unstable income: Implications for family well-being in the era of time-limited welfare

Ellen K. Scott, Kathryn Edin, Andrew S. London, Rebecca Joyce Kissane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Four years into the implementation of the 1996 federal welfare reform legislation, promising to “change welfare as we know it,” a critical question remains unanswered: How are formerly welfare-reliant families faring as they make the transition to work? Drawing on longitudinal, ethnographic data collected under the auspices of Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation’s Project on Devolution and Urban Change, we examine changes in women’s employment and income, and their families’ well-being. This paper provides insights into how stable employment accompanied by increases in family income may improve family well-being. However, few families in the sample had income increases that were significant enough to change their material circumstances substantially. This paper also shows that not all families benefitted from the move to employment–those who had unstable, low wage jobs without much gain in income experienced fewer benefits than those who had stable employment. Sometimes families relying on low-wage, unstable jobs were worse off than they were on welfare. The effects of such employment on single parents, and their increased absence from the household, often contributed to greater disruption in family routines, causing children to be worse off.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)61-88
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of Poverty
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 16 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Employment transitions
  • Family well-being
  • Welfare reform


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