Welfare, single mothers, education, women, identity


In this study I use participant observations,face-to-face interviews, and focus group interviews to examine how women on welfare read and negotiate culture-of-poverty discourse and the imagery that this discourse spawns. I spoke with two groups of young single mothers receiving welfare. The first group included young mothers between the ages of 18 and 23 who were attending high school in a community-based program that served women on welfare. The second group included mothers in their early to mid 20's who were attending either a local two-year college or research university. Education was a path of resistance for the women in this study. Young single mothers were motivated to obtain an education; they wanted a better life for their child. As students, women were situated in a status that allowed them to reject the attributes associated with dominant welfare imagery. Women forged identities against the grain of dominant images that depict all women on welfare as "lazy women" and "bad mothers." The students in this study made a claim to characteristics like hard work, motivation, and good parenting. Yet, students did not fully reject cultureof- poverty discourse. Their identities as students were situated in a form of oppositional thinking that set them against other women on welfare.

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