Katz Receives Grant to Study Experiences of Welfare Mothers Pursuing Higher Education

sheilakatz2011.jpegDr. Sheila Katz, professor of sociology, has been awarded a National Poverty Center grant to explore how public assistance programs, such as California's welfare program CalWORKs, can be more responsive to the educational needs of low-income single mothers and increase their chances for economic self-sufficiency.

Research findings will uncover emerging issues, such as the impact of the 'great recession,' that may affect upcoming welfare reauthorization policy decisions.

The study is the first qualitative longitudinal research project with mothers on welfare pursuing higher education since welfare reform and reauthorization was passed. Three waves of interviews with single mothers in the San Francisco Bay Area were conducted in 2006, 2008, 2011 as part of Katz's CalWORKs and Higher Education Study (CHES).


Participants varied by degree programs pursued - Associate's and Bachelor's degrees - with approximately half of the participants involved in an advocacy organization for welfare parents.


Welfare mothers struggle through strict regulations and time limitations imposed by current welfare policies, while also trying to raise families, attend school and escape poverty, says Katz. "This is a daunting but empowering experience."


Through interviews with mothers pursuing higher education while participating in CalWORKs, the research addresses factors that lead mothers to pursue higher education, the challenges they encounter while pursuing it, and what resources help them.


It also addresses how they fared during and after the "Great Recession," especially by focusing on what educational degrees help women weather the economic downturn the best. Katz says, "low-income families endure deeper and longer financial difficulties during economic recessions, and recover much slower than their middle-class counterparts."


Preliminary findings indicate "Bachelor's degrees are most effective for single mothers to find career-track employment at wages that support a family, and help families better survive economic recessions."


Further, this research explores the role that advocacy social service organizations play for low-income student families and what policies need attention during Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) reauthorization process to increase opportunities for welfare mothers to pursue higher education and increase chances for economic self-sufficiency.


"Given the current economic conditions, the narratives of the most vulnerable in the labor market are significant for exploring how current social policy could be changed to increase access to higher education and provide better labor market opportunities. This is particularly important for low-income single mothers and their families given the upcoming TANF reauthorization," Katz says.


The focus of the NPC's 2011 small grants competition was "to examine the current needs of low-income families and their children, applying what has been learned in the 15 years following implementation of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 to make TANF and related public assistance programs more responsive to the needs of these families."


Katz is the only California researcher to be awarded a grant as part of this competition.


Professor Katz can be reached at sheila.katz@sonoma.edu or at (707) 664-2583.


For more information,visit http://www.sonoma.edu/sociology/faculty/sheila_katz.html.

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