The Daniel Thursz Social Justice Lecture
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Poverty and the Urban Family
Featured Speaker: Kathryn Edin
Kathryn Edin is one of the nation’s leading poverty researchers, working in the domains of welfare and low-wage work, family life, and neighborhood contexts. A qualitative and mixed-method researcher, she has taken on key mysteries about the urban poor that have not been fully answered by quantitative work: How do single mothers possibly survive on welfare? Why don’t more go to work? Why do they end up as single mothers in the first place? Where are the fathers and why do they disengage from their children’s lives? How have the lives of the single mothers changed as a result of welfare reform?
Edin has authored 5 books with a sixth forthcoming and some 50 journal articles. The hallmark of her research is her direct, in-depth observations of the lives of low-income women and men Her 1997 book with Laura Lein, Making Ends Meet: How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work addressed a central policy question of the time as welfare reform legislation was being debated: Why weren’t these mothers working?
In a 2005 book, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage, Edin and her co-author, Maria Kefalas, sought to answer another policy conundrum: Why were so many low-income women having children without marrying, when doing so seemed so difficult?
In a book published in 2013, Doing the Best I Can: Fathering in the Inner City, published 2013, Edin and Timothy Nelson report on in-depth interviews with unmarried low-income fathers who tell their side of the story. Across the political spectrum, unwed fatherhood is denounced as one of the leading social problems of today. Doing the Best I Can is an in-depth look at fatherhood among inner-city men often dismissed as “deadbeat dads.” Doing the Best I Can shows how mammoth economic and cultural changes have transformed the meaning of fatherhood among the urban poor. Intimate interviews with more than 100 fathers make real the significant obstacles faced by low-income men at every step in the familial process: from the difficulties of romantic relationships, to decision-making dilemmas at conception, to the often celebratory moment of birth, and finally to the hardships that accompany the early years of the child's life, and beyond. The book reveals a radical redefinition of family life, one that has revolutionized the meaning of fatherhood among inner-city men.
A new book on the impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit on the lives of the working poor, Its Not Like I’m Poor: Making Ends Meet in a Post-Welfare World, is forthcoming (with Sarah Halpern-Meekin, Laura Tach and Jennifer Sykes). Edin’s current projects include: a study of the rise in the number of American households with children living on less than $2 per person per day; the transition to adulthood among the disadvantaged urban poor; a study of the tradeoffs moderate- and low-income Black, and Latino families make when deciding where to live, what kind of place to rent or purchase, and where to send their children to school; a formative study of landlords and the supply side of residential choice for low-income renters.
Edin is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. Formerly, she was Professor or Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School and chair of the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Margaret Mead Fellow at the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. She is a Trustee of the Russell Sage Foundation and on HHS’s advisory committee for the poverty research centers at University of California Davis, University of Wisconsin, and Stanford University. She is a founding member of the MacArthur Foundation-funded Network on Housing and Families with Young Children and a past member of the MacArthur Network on the Family and the Economy.