Don’t Have No Time: Daily Rhythms and the Organization of Time for Low-Income Families *


  • *

    We gratefully acknowledge the funders of the ethnographic component of Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three-City Study, including: the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Social Security Administration; the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; the W.K. Kellogg Foundation; and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. We also acknowledge Stephen Matthews for his contributions to analysis of geographic and ethnographic data. We extend special thanks to our 210-member ethnographic team (see project Web site http:www.jhu.eduwelfare), and particularly the Penn State team, who provided the infrastructure, organization, and data management for the multisite ethnography. Most importantly, we thank the families who have graciously participated in the project and have given us access to their lives.

  • A version of this paper was presented at the annual conference of the National Council on Family Relations, November 2001, in Minneapolis MN.

* * Dr. Kevin Roy, Department of Child Development and Family Studies, Purdue University, 101 Gates Road, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2020 (


Using ethnographic data from Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three-City Study, we examined time obligations and resource coordination of low-income mothers. Longitudinal data from 75 African American, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White families residing in Chicago, including information on daily routines, perceptions of time, and access to resources, were gathered via participant observation and intensive semistructured interviews over 4 years. Results indicated that families constantly improvised daily rhythms to obtain and sustain resources, including child care, transportation, and social services. Participants were proactive in identifying and coordinating resources to transition from welfare to work or to maintain paid employment. Strategies used to coordinate resources and the cost associated with the inability to do so are discussed. Policy and social service recommendations are offered.