Up the Down Escalator? How Nonmetropolitan Low-Income Families Experience Work, Poverty and Immobility
This research examines the economic well-being of nonmetropolitan low-income households through an analysis of their objective economic outcomes and subjective experiences of poverty. Despite a large body of scholarship aimed at urban poverty, comparatively little research examines economic hardship among impoverished nonmetropolitan families. This research contributes to existing work through an analysis of nonmetropolitan low-income households' employment experiences and short-term economic trajectories. Additionally, this research uses fine-grained longitudinal data to address how families subjectively experience poverty and economic im/mobility. The analyses use ethnographic data from a sample of households (n=71) in the Family Life Project, a multi-method, longitudinal study conducted in six counties within Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The analyses reveal that families across these two regions experience a high level of constraint with respect to their employment choices and economic mobility outcomes. The analyses also present alternative metrics for job quality and job satisfaction which explicitly include criteria from the perspectives of low-wage nonmetropolitan workers. Most households experience little or no upward economic mobility throughout their participation in the study, and family members express conservative expectations for their long-term economic well-being. The study concludes with suggestions for continued research in the nonmetropolitan U.S. This work contributes to existing scholarship in the areas of economic mobility, work and poverty. These analyses reveal scholarly assessments of work, poverty and the decisions of economic actors can be improved through the inclusion of subjective household perspectives. Additionally, these analyses should motivate scholars to reevaluate the effectiveness of employment for promoting upward economic mobility, especially among contemporary nonmetropolitan low-income households.
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