Mother Readings: Summary/Critique in These


That is, most of the information contained in these studies uses the change in various indicators and measures of poverty over time to show the lack of success that historical programs have had in combating intergenerational poverty. While the correlations pointed out do seem to be reliably linked with continued poverty, it is not fair or accurate to make policy recommendations based on what has been observed to not work in the past, yet this is exactly what these authors do.

Garfinkel et al. (1998) is especially egregious in this regard in failing to acknowledge the increased advocacy for women's rights during the 1960s and 70s, decades which he sees important only (apparently) for the changes in the court's and legislature's attitude towards the growing absence (and growing social acceptance) of absent fathers. The programs during this era shifted assistance in favor of divorced and unwed mothers, and this monetary shift (especially in comparison to the wealth -- and the ability to provide child support -- of the father) is noted by the authors, but they fail to take into account the social stigma that was still present for most women who had children but were no longer married to the children's biological father. In addition, women's earnings over this time are not mentioned or analyzed, but instead the specific and average income of the fathers' is used to make comparisons and recommendations. Given the still-present disparity in earning between the two genders -- and the fact that this disparity was more pronounced in previous decades -- such measurements seem inherently biased.

The ignorance of certain essential figures is bad enough, but far worse I these studies is the ignorance of the many social issues at work that cannot be quantified. Garfinkel and McLanahan (1986) recommend increased independence and work as a solution to poverty, recommendations that were enacted by the PROWA. While it is true that working does provide better security than the federal government is able to offer, at least on the surface, the reality of finding and maintaining adequate employment as a single mother without a wide social network -- or with a social network that consists of other impoverished families -- is actually much more difficult than the authors appreciate. The demands of parenting can often interfere with employment, and many employers take this into consideration when determining suitability for certain employment positions. In an ideal world, everyone would have a job that supplied them with both adequate time and money to sufficiently care for their families. Of course, in this ideal world poor single mothers would not exist in the first place, rendering the issue moot.

Parke (2003) makes a similar error of omission in his recommendation that marriage should be encouraged as a cure for poverty among single mother families. The availability of marriageable men in impoverished areas, and the desirability of these men in terms of economic advantage, has been questioned by other scholars. In addition, the desirability of single mothers in such communities is also suspect. Finally, suggesting that marriage is purely a cause and effect of economic factors is antithetical to the spirit of self-fulfillment promised to those Americans living above the poverty…