Poverty, Welfare, and the Livelihood Strategies of Nonmetropolitan Single Mothers*


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    An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2001 annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society. The authors acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation and the helpful comments of Mark Nord, Diane McLaughlin, Joachim Singelman, Jim Moody, Benjamin Cornwell, and the editor and anonymous reviewers of Rural Sociology. Please direct correspondence to J. Brian Brown, Department of Sociology, 300 Bricker Hall, 190 N. Oval Mall, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210; email: brown.1954@osu.edu


Abstract  Using the National Survey of Family Growth, we document nonmetropolitan and metropolitan single mothers' economic livelihood strategies. We have three objectives: (1) examine differences in employment, cohabitation, co-residence with other adults, and welfare receipt; (2) evaluate how these livelihood strategies are associated with economic well-being; and (3) identify key metro-nonmetro differences in the effectiveness of these livelihood strategies in improving the economic well-being of single mothers. We find surprisingly similar livelihood strategies in nonmetropolitan and metropolitan areas. Employment, cohabitation, and co-residence are strongly associated with economic well-being. However, nonmetro single mothers are less likely than metropolitan mothers to benefit economically from full-time employment. Given our results, “work-first” policies are likely to be less efficacious in nonmetropolitan areas. Indeed, nonmetropolitan single mothers are often “triply disadvantaged” compared to their metro counterparts; they experience higher rates of poverty, higher barriers to welfare receipt, and lower economic returns from other livelihood strategies.