RSF trustee and author Kathryn Edin (Princeton University) discussed her RSF book Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low Wage Work (co-authored with Laura Lein of the University of Michigan) in a recent episode of the Poverty Research and Policy podcast from the Institute for Research on Poverty at University of Wisconsin, Madison. Edin discussed changes in U.S. anti-poverty policy since the book’s publication 25 years ago.
Edin said that the inspiration for Making Ends Meet came from her experience teaching college courses to welfare recipients in Chicago. When speaking with her students, they told her that it was impossible to survive on welfare without cheating the system. Over the course of six years, Edin and Lein interviewed nearly 400 single mothers across the United States who were either on welfare or were working and low-income in order to better understand their struggles to provide for their families.
Edin discussed the shift of the former welfare system to today’s tax-based system, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). In her book It’s Not Like I’m Poor, with Sarah Halpern-Meekin (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Laura Tach (Cornell University), and Jennifer Sykes (Harvard University), the authors found that while receiving direct cash aid through the traditional welfare system was highly stigmatized, receiving tax credits through the EITC conferred a sense of dignity, with recipients saying they felt more like “a real American” – due in part to the fact that Americans find value and self-esteem through working. She cautions, however, that the EITC can be seen as a subsidy for low-wage employers as opposed to low-income families, as it has been shown that employers lower their wages because of the EITC.
When asked what she would like people who are reading the book to know, Edin stated that it’s gotten harder for the poor, particularly those in the bottom fifth of the income distribution, and that the situation gets worse every year. Edin concluded by emphasizing that child poverty rates have increased. She asserted that because the poverty line is very low, this means that families with children are struggling in inconceivable ways, even though many of these families are working.
Kathryn Edin is William Church Osborn Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs and co-director of The Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing at Princeton University. In addition to serving on the RSF board of trustees and co-authoring Making Ends Meet, she is co-author of RSF book Coming of Age in the Other America, co-editor of RSF volume Unmarried Couples with Children, contributing author to multiple RSF volumes, including Laboring Below the Line, Assets for the Poor, Imprisoning America, and For Better and For Worse, and is a contributor to RSF: The Russell Sage Journal of the Social Sciences issues “Growing Up Rural,” “Anti-poverty Policy Initiatives for the United States,” and “Severe Deprivation in America.”