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Gender Relations, Housing Distress, and Persistent Poverty in Kentucky : 

Gender Relations, Housing Distress, and Persistent Poverty in Kentucky Joanna M. Badagliacco, Ph.D. Department of Sociology Center for Poverty Research Appalachian Center University of Kentucky

Social Construction of Family Homelessness: 

Social Construction of Family Homelessness National recognition recent decades that more families were experiencing homelessness Agenda to understand family homelessness in order to determine the causes and consequences if we expect to assist families I contend that we must question the definitions we use because our definitions are fraught with ideological issues What is family homelessness? Does categorization dismiss poverty? Thin line between the domiciled and undomiciled poor

Kentucky Demographics: 

Kentucky Demographics KY per capita personal income: $22,183 (1998) 43rd in US and 82% of national average KY residents in poverty (2000 census) Children under age 18: 21% Persons 65 and older: 10% Families with no husband/father present & children 5 years of younger: 56%

Persons in Poverty in Kentucky: 

Persons in Poverty in Kentucky Darker green = higher level of poverty

Research Sites : 

Research Sites Persistent Poverty Mountainous Bleak economic picture Few jobs Inadequate education

Interviews : 

Interviews Mothers who were in housing distress Total in-depth interviews to date: 102 mothers in severe poverty, 16 had male partners who were also interviewed Ethnographic oral life histories Interviews in several counties of Kentucky Longitudinal attempts to follow mothers not very successful (yet!)

Understanding Rural Poverty and Homelessness: 

Understanding Rural Poverty and Homelessness Poverty and homelessness must be considered as process not as a crisis Often a temporal chain of events that pushes family to social marginalization, often making unrelenting poverty and/or homelessness a permanent condition My study: childhood abuse as a major risk factor for homelessness of mothers

Understanding Rural Poverty and Homelessness, cont.: 

Understanding Rural Poverty and Homelessness, cont. Problem is not simply insufficient income or housing Wide-ranging heterogeneous life conditions Multiplicity of factors: Family and kinship relationships Social and cultural environments of community Conditions for social integration Needs of particular family members based on household composition, age of children Opportunities for living-wage employment Physical and mental health of family


Demographics 27 years old (avg.) White (rural); Black (urban) 11 years of education (avg.) 2 or 3 children with mother currently High levels of domestic violence Partner relationships weak Income less than $10,000 annually Most receive(d) some social welfare, usually food stamps and medical cards for children, shelter, food bank, church voluntary services

Childhood Experiences: 

Childhood Experiences Percent Reporting

Childhood Violence: 

Childhood Violence Overwhelming majority reported serious family distress as children: violence, abandonment, neglect, sexual abuse Hear their voices...

How to tell their stories?: 

How to tell their stories? Mothers openly describe exceptionally difficult circumstances How can their stories be told in a way that does not victimize them again but still describes their situations? My current solution: describe their courageous ability to survive poverty and familial distress Theoretical path that emerges: gender relations

Housing Distress Continuum based on Gendered Relationships: 

Housing Distress Continuum based on Gendered Relationships Matrifocal Patrifocal Sociofocal Religiofocal Housed Poor


Matrifocal mothers: see themselves as responsible for future, working within system Mothers children Partners/fathers Strong Family, Kin, Community, Social Welfare ties

Matrifocal Mothers: 

Matrifocal Mothers “Fighter” Less likely to be found in rural KY Sees herself as central to family, with or without male partner Fluid concept of “family” Expects to provide for her children by working and social services Strong ties with family and kin of origin Experiences distress as episodic, part of family poverty


Patrifocal mothers: see males –as sole providers now and for the future. Mothers Children Male: partner, father(s) as sole provider Weaker Family, Kin, Community, Social Welfare ties

Patrifocal Mothers: 

Patrifocal Mothers “Dependent” Prevalent in Appalachia KY Male partner seen as essential Children important; multiple fathers Traditional view of nuclear family Family and kin ties weaker and possibly violent and/or estranged Experiences distress as a crisis until male partner (current or future) rescues family Often had unrealistic plans for future


Sociofocal mothers: women desire male providers in whose absence the state provides through child welfare. Mothers Children Welfare state becomes “husband” and provider Very Weak Male, Family, Kin, Community ties

Sociofocal Mothers: 

Sociofocal Mothers “Resigned” Somewhat prevalent in Appalachia KY Family less stable, unlikely to remain intact Requires social intervention for children and self; may be reluctant to accept help Male partner seen as essential but unreliable Weak partner, family, and kin ties, may be violent, estranged Experiences distress as a crisis until future male partner rescues family; unrealistic plans


Religiofocal women: faith in religion, Jesus as provider now and for the future Mothers Children “God” or “Jesus” seen as good provider Weakest Family, Kin, Community, Social Welfare ties

Religiofocal Mothers: 

Religiofocal Mothers “Fatalist” Some mothers in Appalachia KY Family very unstable, unlikely to remain intact; outside social system “Jesus” seen as only provider; “God will provide” for future Children likely to be formally relinquished Male partner(s) rejected; severed family, and kin ties Experiences distress as what “God” or “Jesus” wants for her and children; “accepts God’s will”; no plans for future

Rural Violence and Poverty : 

Rural Violence and Poverty Experience of rural women is complicated by particular structural, cultural, and economic factors that differ from the urban experience High poverty rates Jobs scarce Services unavailable or inadequate Community (public) visibility

Structural Factors : 

Structural Factors Lack of transportation Few shelters Resources limited No place to go Housing distress

Cultural Factors: 

Cultural Factors Strong cultural norm of traditional family roles Kinfolk might be willing but unable to help Childhood violence

Economic Factors : 

Economic Factors Decline in available jobs Only available work is service sector and low wage, few benefits Lack of Healthcare and Health Insurance Dependence upon social provisioning Unprepared for job market

The Link Between Violence & Welfare : 

The Link Between Violence & Welfare Welfare is a valuable resource for women who are victims of family violence Past and current violence negatively impacts readiness for the job market and the ability to maintain employment Rural location adds important confounding influence

Policy Issues: 

Policy Issues Policy issues are many, broad, and complex Policies and programs must address structural, community, family, and individual needs Examples: Training for true economic self-sufficiency, e.g., living wages Conflict resolution Provision of child care Integration into larger community

Gender Relations, Housing Distress, and Persistent Poverty in Kentucky : 

Gender Relations, Housing Distress, and Persistent Poverty in Kentucky Joanna M. Badagliacco, Ph.D. Department of Sociology Center for Poverty Research Appalachian Center University of Kentucky

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