Both Hands Tied: Welfare Reform and the Race to the Bottom in the Low-Wage Labor Market

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Overview

Both Hands Tied studies the working poor in the United States, focusing in particular on the relation between welfare and low-wage earnings among working mothers. Grounded in the experience of thirty-three women living in Milwaukee and Racine, Wisconsin, it tells the story of their struggle to balance child care and wage-earning in poorly paying and often state-funded jobs with inflexible schedules—and the moments when these jobs failed them and they turned to the state for additional aid.

 

Jane L. Collins and Victoria Mayer here examine the situations of these women in light of the 1996 national Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act and other like-minded reforms—laws that ended the entitlement to welfare for those in need and provided an incentive for them to return to work. Arguing that this reform came at a time of gendered change in the labor force and profound shifts in the responsibilities of family, firms, and the state, Both Hands Tied provides a stark but poignant portrait of how welfare reform afflicted poor, single-parent families, ultimately eroding the participants’ economic rights and affecting their ability to care for themselves and their children.

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Editorial Reviews

Frances Fox Piven

“This is a definitive book. Collins and Mayer connect the hard experiences of particular women buffeted by changes in U.S. welfare policy with a broad and illuminating account of the economic and political forces that have transformed welfare in the United States. Read this book to understand what welfare reform is really about.”

Joe Soss

"Both Hands Tied is critical social science at its best. I know of no book that is more successful in drawing the lived experiences of the poor into dialogue with the structural and political forces that are shaping their lives. What does it mean to be a worker, a citizen, and a parent in the lower reaches of American society today? How has the turn to paternalist welfare provision, rooted in work enforcement and behavioral regulation, affected poor women’s struggles to achieve better lives for themselves and their children? By combining powerful narratives and incisive social analysis, the authors provide answers to these questions that are as troubling as they are persuasive. Brimming with insight and beautifully written, Both Hands Tied is an important piece of scholarship that pulls back the curtain to reveal a national disgrace.”

Employment and Society Work

“This book is bold, ambitious, and scholarly, and paints an alarming picture of disadvantage and marginalization of a group of women in the 21st century. I warmly recommend this important and ground-breaking work.”

Jacket
Both Hands Tied is critical social science at its best. I know of no book that is more successful in drawing the lived experiences of the poor into dialogue with the structural and political forces that are shaping their lives. What does it mean to be a worker, a citizen, and a parent in the lower reaches of American society today? How has the turn to paternalist welfare provision, rooted in work enforcement and behavioral regulation, affected poor women's struggles to achieve better lives for themselves and their children? By combining powerful narratives and incisive social analysis, the authors provide answers to these questions that are as troubling as they are persuasive. Brimming with insight and beautifully written, Both Hands Tied is an important piece of scholarship that pulls back the curtain to reveal a national disgrace." Joe Soss, University of Minnesota
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226114057
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2010
  • Pages: 219
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane L. Collins is the Evjue Bascom Professor of Community and Environmental Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the author of Threads: Gender, Labor and Power in the Global Apparel Industry, among other titles. Victoria Mayer is assistant professor of sociology at Colby College.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Preface

1 Introduction: The Connection Between Welfare and Work

2 Welfare Reform’s Context: The Growth of the Low-Wage Service Sector

3 Welfare Reform’s Content: Building Connections Between Work and Welfare

4 Tying the First Hand: The Solitary Wage Bargain

5 Tying the Second Hand: Challenges to Economic Citizenship

6 Both Hands Tied: The Race to the Bottom in the Low-Wage Labor Market

7 Conclusion: Untying the Hands

Appendix A. Description of Interview Process

Appendix B. Interview Protocol

Appendix C. Economic Composition of Sample

Appendix D. Industrial Composition of Milwaukee and Racine

Appendix e. Wisconsin Works (W-2)

Documents

Notes

References

Index

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