A Research Perspective
Catherine Huddleston-Casas, Ph.D., University of Nebraska
Bonnie Braun, Ph.D., University of Maryland
Following passage of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, researchers launched a number of policy evaluation studies to monitor the effectiveness of the legislation on targeted families, primarily urban families. Few of these studies focused on the multiple systems that surround and affect families and few focused on rural families over time. To balance those investigations, researchers from 17 land-grant universities, with funding from the USDA, launched a three-year, multi-state study of rural, low-income families known as Rural Families Speak. Findings are emerging with implications for public policy and programs…
Taken together, the key findings of Rural Families Speak research on labor force participation concludes that:
• It’s not good enough to simply be employed. Families need access to full-time jobs paying adequate wages. Employment stability is enhanced by having a flexible employer, working sufficient work hours, and having health insurance.
• If jobs are available but families lack reliable transportation, they will not be able to maintain employment.
• Access to affordable childcare is critical to gainful employment for rural, low-income families. Families who do not have affordable childcare options will:
1) Look to the social support of family and friends to fill the gap. This gap decreases their employment stability and increases their financial vulnerability or,
2) Make caregiving for young children a priority over earning an income.
• Families earning income are eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Families who are aware of the EITC and have assistance with tax forms receive and use the money to pay bills, invest in reliable transportation, and increase assets through home improvements or savings. EITC receipt increases income adequacy and improves financial stability.
• Mothers who are gainfully employed and earning an adequate income are more food secure, more financially stable and are healthier – they are less depressed and report fewer health problems.
For more information or a full copy of this Rural Families Speak report go to – www.ruralfamilies.umn.edu
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Center for Rural Affairs
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