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Journal Issue: Welfare to Work Volume 7 Number 1 Spring 1997

Effects of Low-Wage Employment on Family Well-Being
Toby L. Parcel Elizabeth G. Menaghan


Assumptions about the processes that link a mother's employment to the development of her child must underlie expectations about how children may fare when their mothers move from welfare dependence into employment. This article explores the idea, mentioned in the research overview by Zaslow and Emig in this journal issue, that the working conditions such as wages, work hours, and task complexity that mothers experience on the job can influence their behavior as parents and shape the home environments they provide for their children. This article discusses the significance of home environments for children's intellectual and emotional development and considers how home surroundings change when mothers begin jobs that are more rewarding or less rewarding. The authors conclude that, while maternal employment is not necessarily harmful, if welfare recipients find only low-wage, stressful jobs, working may prove costly for both family and child well-being. The authors recommend that welfare-to-work programs devote attention to (1) assisting mothers to obtain more complex work at good wages, (2) helping mothers understand the role home environments play in shaping children's development, and (3) encouraging parents to make their children's home surroundings as positive as possible.