fare them well

tracking what’s changing for welfare, women and children

Who is interested in welfare issues online?

Who is interested in welfare issues online?

It’s not easy to talk about disadvantages.

But when you start chatting with women, the experience is inescapable. Whether it is societal constructions, socio-economic status, or engendered stereotypes, women everyday encounter times where just being themselves is deemed disadvantageous.

But that makes it no easier to discuss an in issue effecting nearly 2 million Americans: welfare. Since welfare reform in 1996 with the passage of the a system of state-level block grants renamed the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the public assistance program has required parents to work and limited benefits.

At its peak in 1994, the welfare rolls totaled more than 5.1 million. Today, the numbers still astound.

The Illinois-based University Consortium on Welfare Reform reports women account for 90 percent of welfare recipients. Unmarried women head three out of every four families on welfare. Seven percent of recipients are teens.

But for as much as statistics tell us about who these women are, there exists a digital disparity of their voices online.

“I’d like to see more online women’s voices who are not experts themselves, because I miss those voices,” said Judith Stadtman Tucker, editor of The Mother’s Movement Online. Founded in 2003, the site aims to be a clearinghouse for reporting and resources that support social change.

If she got her wish, Tucker would see more women diverse women blogging, or logging on to chat about their plights with an ever-evolving welfare system. Here’s what we know about a potential welfare-dependent audience.
As of 2002, a research study by the Department of Health and Human Services reports:

• In the fiscal year 2000, the racial composition of welfare recipients included: 31 percent white, 39 percent black, and 25 percent Hispanic.
• In 2000, 10 percent of women on welfare received child support averaging $174/month
• Families earning less than $15,000/year spend 25 percent of their income on child care
• Only 14 percent of welfare recipients received work-based health insurance
• Seventeen percent of welfare recipients had a college education
• Thirty-five percent of Black female-headed households lived in poverty; that’s compared to 25 percent of female-headed households nationwide

Tucker’s insight is backed by factual evidence that the demographic of women interested in a blog tracking public assistance issues may very well be too busy barely making it to blog. A 2002 study released by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found significant changes in income sources for low-income single parent families after welfare began to emphasize working, but little improvement in their economic well being. While more low-income single parents went to work, their earnings and wages remain low. That meant their employment was concentrated in low-wage occupations and industries.

Rebecca, a 28-year-old single mother from Skokie juggles her studies in pharmacy school and time with her daughter to ensure she won’t end up in a low-paying job, she said.

“I considered welfare shortly after my daughter was born,” she said. “I have friends my age who are on welfare. But my mom’s a homemaker, and can help. If I didn’t have her, I’d probably be like my friends.”

The community also includes a cleavage of academics, policy analysts, and activists. This group of concerned citizens reaches out their voices to one another in hopes of furthering awareness and understanding of the issues of women in need of pubic assistance to live.

The Mother’s Movement Online specifically arose out of a need to aggregate policy analysis, academic research, and informed commentary scattered across the Internet, Tucker said. As a privately funded, non-commercial site, it provides a subscriber-only email discussion and a free monthly newsletter considered an expert on women’s issues, she said she aims to “write about motherhood as a social issue.” As part of that commitment, the site features a page entitled, Welfare & Women’s Poverty. Most of the entries are policy reports or analysis, written in the formal tone of professionals.

“I feel we may be skewing the discussion by not having women experiencing welfare issues speak out,” Tucker said.
That’s the founding thought behind the purpose of this site. Fare them well is dedicated to aggregating interesting tidbits, news clippings, and the latest policy findings on welfare, now known as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

But in reaching out to the would-be audience of welfare recipients, I was turned away upon first correspondence. A parent hosting a blog dedicated to African American single parents would not speak out, even on anonymous terms. One discussion group leader would talk to me only after he deduced that I had no political bias or slant in the great welfare debate. All of these examples, coupled by the lack of many open online communities discussing welfare issues suggest that there is a void in the cyber world for a very-present real-world issue.

“The common impression is that all bloggers are 30-something white moms,” Camahort said. “I thinks that the blog sphere presents an opportunity for self-expression from a variety of voices.”

But extensive searches yielded few sites dedicated solely to issues important to low-income families. One such site, entitled Welfare –Mom was last edited in the late 90s. The about page from the site spoke truths about the link between free time (if any) and work time.

“This site is being developed single-handedly by a mother on welfare (while the other hand is busy with a 15 month old),” the site owner said. “She earns no money for her efforts. Anyone who would like to sponsor this page or hire welfare-mom, please look over her myriad of talents and then contact her through e-mail. She desperately seeks a way to balance a steady paycheck and her parental responsibilities.”

As of today, it appears her good intentions outlasted the tough reality of being low-income: you’re fighting against the odds in the real world and online.

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