/ Introduction: From Welfare to Well Being


This Michigan Family Review explores a wide range of current economic issues affecting families. The editor summarizes the current status of family economic well being in Michigan and provides an overview of the issue's articles and book reviews on the topics of family policy, welfare reform, unemployment, urban homelessness, rural economies, family businesses, and work/family dynamics.

Key words: families, economics, work, welfare, poverty, Michigan

    1. Libby Balter Blume is Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, Michigan 48216-0900. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to blumelb@udmercy.edu.return to text

    In Michigan, the percentage of families living in poverty in 1995 was 12.2%, a decrease from 14.1% in 1994 and 15.4% in 1993 (Schmid, 1996). The U.S. Census Bureau reported a similarly optimistic trend for the nation: The number of poor Americans dropped by 1.6 million people to 13.8% (with a $15,569 annual income defining the poverty threshold for a family of four). These facts were heralded by politicians as good news. However, while the overall U.S. poverty rate has fallen since the 1960s, the percent of children living in poverty has increased from 17.6% in 1966 to 20.8% in 1995 (Detroit Free Press, 1996). In December of 1996 the annual Kids Count[2] data book State Profiles of Well-Being was released at a conference in Detroit. The report documented several improvements in outcomes for Michigan children, although outcomes for children worsened in six areas, including economic security (Focus on Michigan's Children, 1996).

    Poverty has been defined conceptually as the absence of resources to meet basic needs. However, the poverty line cut-off does not reflect how far below (or above) the threshold people fall—the poverty gap (Huston, 1994); thus the U.S. Census Bureau's official poverty line greatly underestimates the number of working poor in America. The predominant image of the poor is of people who are unemployed or on welfare although a majority of the poor are able, non-elderly heads of household working full-time. In Michigan, while the state median income for families with children is higher than the national level, and per capita income in the state has increased, the share of Michigan's children in working poor families with one employed parent matched the national rate of 7.6% (Michigan League for Human Services, 1996a). About 184,000 children in Michigan live in poverty despite the fact that at least one parent in the family works a full year (Kids Count, 1996). Although some families maintain their standard of living with two earners, the percent of children living in single-mother families has increased over the last decade (Huston, McLoyd, & Coll, 1994) while the average wage has fallen 5%, adjusted for inflation. Many families cannot pay rent and child care on minimum and low-paying jobs (Kispert, 1996).

    According to the Michigan League for Human Services (1996b), stagnant wages, the proliferation of part-time work, low levels of public assistance, and reductions in emergency aid for families combine to place Michigan's children at risk of homelessness. Two separate research studies conducted in Michigan since the state cut 82,600 poor adults from the welfare rolls found that the people who were doing the best were receiving services from another program—state or federal disability or the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (Kispert, 1996). However, in 1996 Michigan began implementing parts of a new federal welfare law that changes the welfare system from one of entitlements to one of temporary assistance. A lifetime limit of five years was imposed by the federal government, although states are permitted to exempt up to 20% of the welfare caseload for hardship reasons. All new applicants must attend an orientation before their case is opened. Minor parents must stay in school and live with an adult to continue receiving assistance.

    Until recently, the study of welfare reform was dominated almost entirely by an economic orientation. However, current research is becoming more multidisciplinary—contributed to by specialists in health, child development, social welfare, family development, economics, and other disciplines (Huston, 1994). Recent trends—such as the rise in mothers' labor force participation and the rise in mother-only families—have been the focus of most research on children. However, historical trends—such as the rise of nonfarm work, the decline of large families, and a rise in educational attainment—are also an important focus of research on family economics. In addition, children's access to resources has been studied from a historical perspective, revealing that changes in family income and poverty for children have been linked to changes in parent's work and family composition (Hernandez, 1994). For example, 62% of poor children in the U.S. are in working families, yet only 36% of three and four year olds eligible for Head Start could be served in 1995 (CDF Reports, 1996).

    This issue of the Michigan Family Review explores a wide range of contemporary economic issues affecting families. The papers have been grouped into three collections that reflect the hopefulness embedded in the title of this issue: From Welfare to Well Being. The first three articles are position papers[3] that illustrate the dialectical tension between the needs of poor families and the current political system—including papers on family economic policy, welfare reform, and comparable worth. Sociologists Stanley Eitzen of Colorado State University and Maxine Baca Zinn of Michigan State University analyze the current political climate influencing our family policies. Valerie Polakow of the Department of Teacher Education at Eastern Michigan University analyzes the effects on children and families of the new welfare reforms specifically. And Deborah Figart, a feminist economist from Michigan, currently teaching at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, examines the issue of comparable worth as reflected in the wages of working women.

    The second group of articles presents research of particular significance to the study of families and economics in Michigan—urban homelessness, rural poverty, and unemployment. Terrie Harshaw and Renee Bouey, both practicing school psychologists in metropolitan Detroit, review the literature on homelessness and report the results of two studies of homeless mothers and their children. David Imig of the Department of Family and Child Ecology at Michigan State University and his colleagues from the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station describe family and community strategies designed to assist children and parents in rural Michigan. Sociologists Clifford Broman of Michigan State University, V. Lee Hamilton of the University of Maryland, and William S. Hoffman of the International Union of United Auto Workers describe the latest findings from their research on the impact of unemployment in the automotive industry on families.

    The final two articles focus on how working families cope with job-related stresses in their daily lives. Robert Kleiman and Eileen Peacock of Oakland University's Center for Family Business discuss the intergenerational concerns of family business owners and their successors. Marlynn Levin of Wayne State University's Merrill-Palmer Institute offers a concluding commentary on the concerns of families trying to balance work and family priorities. Lastly, five Michigan scholars review recently published books related to the theme of families and economics. The books selected for review include the critical topics of child poverty, social policy, employment trends, and family interaction. Michigan Family Review encourages the submission of articles and book reviews from our readers on future themes identified by the Editorial Review Board (see back cover). Please refer to the Instructions for Authors on page 118 of this issue.


    Children's Defense Fund. (1996, January). CDF Reports, 17(2), p. 5.

    Detroit Free Press. (1996, September 29). Welfare recipients who lost benefits give insight on reform, p. El.

    Focus on Michigan's Children. (1996, December 6). Available from Michigan's Children, 428 W. Lenawee, Lansing, MI, 48933.

    Hernandez, D. J. (1994). Children's changing access to resources: A historical perspective. Social policy report, 8(1). Available from the Society for Research in Child Development, University of Michigan, 300 N. Ingalls, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-0406.

    Huston, A. C. (1994). Children in poverty: Designing research to affect policy. Social policy report, 8(2). Available from the Society for Research in Child Development, University of Michigan, 300 N. Ingalls, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109-0406.

    Huston, A. C., McLoyd, V. C., & Coll, C. G. (1994). Children and poverty: Issues in contemporary research. Child Development, 65, 275-282.

    Kids Count. (1996). Kids Count Data Book 1996: State Profiles of Well-being. Available from the Michigan League for Human Services, 300 North Washington Square, Suite 401, Lansing, MI, 48933.

    Kispert, D. (1996). Economic restructuring and its impact on families. News report, 3-4. Available from the Michigan Council on Family Relations, 5832 Beuna Parkway, Haslett, MI, 48840.

    Michigan League for Human Services. (1996a, April). Homeless children experience many losses beyond housing (9 paragraphs). Available from E-mail: hn0809@handsnet.org.

    Michigan League for Human Services. (1996b, June). Child well-being in Michigan shows little gain (13 paragraphs). Available from E-mail: hn0809@handsnet.org.

    Schmid, R. E. (1996, September 27). Real income rose, poverty fell in '95. Detroit Free Press, p. A5.


      1. Kids Count in Michigan is a collaborative project of Michigan's Children and the Michigan League for Human Services.return to text

      2. The authors' views do not necessarily represent the position of the Michigan Council on Family Relations.return to text