An abundance of literature examines the dynamics of poverty, but little
research exists on the dynamics of material hardship. Within a welfare
sample, this study analyzes common experiences of material hardship over
time, identifies material hardships that are more prevalent, and examines if
women experience multiple hardships.
Data come from five waves of the Women’s Employment Study, a stratified
random sample of welfare recipients from one Michigan urban
county in February 1997. The data measure six different forms of material
hardship: food insufficiency, telephone disconnection, utility disconnection,
unmet medical needs, improper winter clothing, and housing problems.
Findings suggest that, while cross-sectional reports of material hardship
are comparable to those reported in past studies, the number of respondents
who reported ever experiencing each form of hardship is substantially
higher. Unmet medical needs, reported by 56 percent of the respondents,
and telephone disconnection are the most frequently indicated forms of material
hardship. Reports of food insufficiency and housing problems follow
closely. Improper winter clothing, experienced by 20 percent of the respondents,
and utility disconnection are the least commonly reported hardships.
Results also suggest that respondents are likely to experience multiple forms
of hardship over the observation period. This finding perhaps indicates that
the overall quality of life within these households is quite low at some point
(or points) during the transition from welfare to work. In fact, only 1 in 10
respondents reported that their household never experienced any material
hardship over the 5-year observation period. On average, respondents
reported 2.58 types of material hardship. Across all types of hardship,
respondents report an average of 4.41 hardships.