Work, Welfare and Childbirth Among Camden Mothers: 1992-1994

An article published by the Forum for Policy Research, Rutgers University in Camden, Spring 1995.

In 1992, the Forum for Policy Research began surveying Camden mothers. We interviewed the mothers at their homes in 1992, and again in 1993. In 1994, we did a quick follow-up survey, at their homes or by telephone. We were interested in welfare dependence, work and childbirth, particularly as they might be effected by the New Jersey welfare reform. In the 1992 survey, we asked about the women's values and their plans for the future. Those findings were reported in previous issues of FPR (which are still available by request). In this article, we will use the 1993 and 1994 follow-up survey data to see what actually happened to the women.

The Respondents. The sample for this analysis is 118 Camden women who completed both the 1992 and 1993 interviews, 80 of whom also completed the 1994 follow-up interview. Most (95%) were the biological mother of the children they were caring for in 1992. The rest were stepmothers or grandmothers acting as the mother figure in the home. Approximately half were black (48%), the rest were white (21%), hispanic (28%) or did not indicate their group membership (2%). When interviewed in 1992, only 20% were under 25 years of age, 21% were 25 to 29 years of age, 42% were in their thirties and 16% were forty or older. The sample was almost equally split between welfare recipients (48%) and nonrecipients (50%), with 2% not answering the question. When interviewed in 1992, 39% of the women were married and living with their spouses, 23% were divorced, widowed or separated, and 38% had never been married.

Marriage, Work and Welfare Dependency. The New Jersey welfare reform was intended to help women get off of welfare and into marriages and/or jobs with decent salaries and benefits. The concern was that, especially in cities such as Camden, welfare had become a way of life for many women. Our survey confirmed that this concern is real for many women. Of the 48% of our sample who were on welfare in 1992, 35% told us they had been on for the entire previous four years. Another 33% had been on welfare for intervals of time during the preceeding four years. And 14% of those not on welfare when interviewed in 1992 had been on welfare at some time in the preceeding four years. While some women use welfare as a temporary help in a crisis, there are substantial numbers in Camden who use to meet their long term financial. This has also been confirmed in focus group discussions which have been published in previous issues of FPR.

We were particularly interested to find out what would happen to our respondents after the 1992 interview. As Table One shows, our respondents who were off welfare tended to stay off it, while those who were on welfare tended to stay on. The reader should be cautioned, however, that our sample is small and we lost track of a many women from year to year (our original 1992 survey included 246 women, 118 of whom were found in 1993 and only 80 in 1994). Women who left welfare may have been more likely to move away from Camden and have been lost to our follow-up interviewers.


Table One

Welfare Dependency in Camden: 1992 to 1994

Welfare Status in 1992

Not On On

Welfare Welfare

Welfare Status in 1993:

Not on Welfare 85% 21%

On Welfare 15% 78%

Number of Respondents: (58) (50)

Welfare Status in 1994:

Not on Welfare: 98% 27%

On Welfare: 2% 74%

Number of Respondents: (44) (34)


In our follow-up sample, three quarters of the women who were on welfare in 1992 had not worked outside the home in 1994, while three quarters of those who were not on welfare in 1992 had worked outside the home. Thirty-five percent of the 1992 welfare mothers had attended school during the 1994 year, however, which suggests that the New Jersey reform is having some positive effects which will result in their finding jobs later on. The New Jersey reform was not intended to move women off welfare quickly into low paying jobs, but to give them the chance to qualify for better paying position.

Work and marriage are the two alternatives which help Camden women survive without welfare. When combined, they are quite powerful. We classified our respondents into four groups. The first, the "working wives" were married and either employed, looking for work, or going to school. The "working singles" were unmarried and working, looking for work or going to school. The "married homemakers" and "single homemakers" were not working, looking for work or going to school. When asked for their self-definition, they defined themselves as homemakers. As Table Two shows, the women who were both married and working, looking for work, or going to school, were universally successful in staying off welfare. The married homemakers were somewhat more successful than the working single mothers, while those single women who defined themselves as homemakers were very likely to remain dependent on welfare. This is not surprising. Indeed, it is hard to see how a woman who is not independently wealthy could survive as a single homemaker without welfare.


Table Two

Work, Marriage and Welfare Dependency in Camden

Status in 1992:

Working Working Married Single

Wives Singles Homemaker Homemaker

N in 1992: (28) (42) (18) (28)

On Welfare in 1992 7% 52% 28% 100%

On Welfare in 1993 4% 40% 33% 76%

On Welfare in 1994 0% 37% 27% 81%

Note: The term "working" includes those looking for work outside the home or going to school, as well as those with jobs. Homemakers were women who defined themselves as such, and were not working, looking for work or going to school.


Having Babies. The greatest controversy about the New Jersey welfare reform concerned the provision that women who conceive an additional baby while on welfare will not receive an increment in their grant. When we did our 1992 survey, we found that most of the women did not expect to have more children in any event. Seventy-nine of this sample, when asked in 1992, said they did not expect to have any more children, including 77% of those on welfare and 83% of those not on welfare. Thus, it seemed as if this controversial provision was addressing a non-problem. Most of the women did not want more children anyway.

In the follow-up survey, however, we found that behavior often did not follow intention as expressed in the survey interview. In the 1993 survey, 20.5% of the welfare recipients, and only 8.2% of the non-recipients told us that they had had a baby in past year. This seems a quite high percentage to have had a baby in a one-year period. In 1994, 12% of the women questioned who had been on welfare in 1992 reported that they had had a baby in the past year, as compared to 4.5% of the women who had not been on welfare in that year. This is a decrease in childbirth compared to our 1993 sample, which is consistent with other data from much larger samples showing that the New Jersey reform is having an effect in cutting childbirth among welfare mothers (see previous issues of FPR and the report by June O'Neill which is part of the documents submitted by the State of New Jersey in defending the welfare reform against a lawsuit by liberal groups).

Many of these pregnancies qualify as "unanticipated," in that the women who had them had told us that they did not plan to have any more children. Thirteen percent of the women who said they did not intend to have another child in 1992, reported that they had had one in the 1993 survey (as did 27% of those who said they did intend to have another child). In the 1994 survey, only 5% of those who had said in 1992 that they did not want to have a child had actually had one in the preceding year, (as compared to 27% of those who said they did intend to have more children).

In addition to asking how many children the women intended to have, we asked them some open-ended questions about their long term plans. The respondents whose answers included plans for getting public assistance were more likely to have had a child than were those respondents who did not mention public assistance in their long term plans.

When we examined the variables which were correlated with the likelihood of having a child, we were surprised to find a strong correlation with two items which reflected traditional religious beliefs. More psychologically oriented items, measuring variables such as fatalism or traditionalism, were not successful in predicting childbearing behavior.

Perhaps more surprising was the fact that the women who were not married were much more likely to have a child than were the women who were married. In the 1993 survey, 22% of the unmarried and only 5% of the married respondents had a baby. In 1994, the figures were 12% and 3%. The fact that births were less frequent among the married women partly reflects the fact that our married respondents were, on the average, slightly older than the nonmarried respondents and already had more children. The undeniable reality, however, is that marriage and childbirth do not typically go together for Camden's mothers. This is finding is especially striking since our sample did not include women or girls having a first child, but only those who already had one or more children when interviewed in 1992. Even among this more mature population, births are most common among women who depend on the welfare system, rather than on husbands or jobs, for support.