It's Not Like I'm Poor: How Working Families Make Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World

It's Not Like I'm Poor: How Working Families Make Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World

Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Laura Tach, Jennifer Sykes

Language: English

Pages: 304

ISBN: 0520275357

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The world of welfare has changed radically. As the poor trade welfare checks for low-wage jobs, their low earnings qualify them for a hefty check come tax time—a combination of the earned income tax credit and other refunds. For many working parents this one check is like hitting the lottery, offering several months’ wages as well as the hope of investing in a better future. Drawing on interviews with 115 families, the authors look at how parents plan to use this annual cash windfall to build up savings, go back to school, and send their kids to college. However, these dreams of upward mobility are often dashed by the difficulty of trying to get by on meager wages. In accessible and engaging prose, It’s Not Like I’m Poor examines the costs and benefits of the new work-based safety net, suggesting ways to augment its strengths so that more of the working poor can realize the promise of a middle-class life.

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rest? 49.Tell me about any time during the past year that you haven’t had enough money to buy something that you needed. How did you deal with that problem? D. BANKING, DEBT, ASSETS 50.Tell me about your experiences with a.banks b.credit unions c.check-cashing places 51.When you got your EITC check, did you put it in the bank? (Probe for where client cashed or deposited the check and why.) 52.When you get your paycheck, where do you go to cash it? (Probe for where client cashes or

would pay her back at tax time. Dominique also wants to save for a home. She’s opened a bank account with her brother where she can deposit savings toward this long-term goal; keeping the account in her brother’s name makes withdrawing the money for other purposes more difficult—and this is the point. Her sister lets Dominique use her bus pass that the sister only rarely puts to use (she has a car) to help her save money on transportation; Dominique says she can also borrow that car, or her

EITC to strong aspirations for upward mobility. Accordingly, 17 percent of refund dollars are saved, while 21 percent are devoted to expenditures that our families explicitly link to getting ahead: furthering their educations, doing home repairs, and especially purchasing or repairing a car and investing in other durable goods that may save time or money or enhance well-being (e.g., a stand-alone freezer, a kitchen table, or a bed).13 Though it may seem odd to include durable goods in “getting

for good reason. As we have indicated, what lands in families’ pockets around tax time is determined by a complex set of calculations that depends on filing status, number of qualifying children, earned income from employment, and other factors. Many of those in our study have a general sense that the EITC is a cash transfer that you receive if you work and you are the parent primarily responsible for at least one child, but they often confuse the EITC with the child tax credit—the credit of up

Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). On the ground, though, word got around among single mothers (the group most likely to qualify for the credit) that, no matter how low paying the job, if you worked, you could get a big refund check when you filed your taxes. For women with limited skills, the payoff for low-wage work shot up just as the ease of staying on the welfare rolls declined. And single mothers responded. Unprecedented numbers of them went to work, and many analysts claim that the new

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