Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Social Work

First Advisor

Elizabeth Doran Hutchison


The purpose of this study is to understand how members of an urban extreme poverty neighborhood experience the labor market and how they perceive the role of social policies and institutions that attempt to facilitate or mediate employment opportunities.

Residents of extreme poverty neighborhoods have been the subject of numerous public policy efforts designed to ameliorate the geographic concentration of poverty as well as strategies to promote work participation based on existing theoretical models of how work participation can be induced. It is argued that the predominant theoretical models that shape inquiry and the development of policy recommendations are incomplete and that adoption of a new orientation may offer additional insight. It is further argued that the use of a structuration perspective to guide research inquiry may extend existing knowledge and facilitate the development of responsive social policies and practice strategies (Wilson, 1995).

A structuration perspective guides the researcher to analyze the labor market participation of a stigmatized group with a different lens. It recommends focusing on the individual’s perceptions of how labor market engagement is constrained and enabled by structural properties. It further recommends attending to the resiliency of individuals by examining how participants respond to such constraints: how they are navigated, how they are transformed, and how they are reproduced.

The research design may best be described as an instrumental single case study using qualitative methods (Creswell, 1998). The focus of the study is the experiences of residents in one bounded community; it relies on multiple sources of data and closely attends to how the phenomenon is embedded within the social-political context. The goal of the research is to develop new understanding and build or extend theory.

In-depth interviews were conducted with 25 residents, 11 community based service providers or program and policy administrators, and 1 staff person of an elected city official. A purposive sampling strategy was utilized. To increase the likelihood that diverse perspectives were captured among residents, variation was sought in employment and housing status, age, gender, and use of public benefits. An elite sampling strategy was utilized with city program administrators and service providers nominated by residents based on their identified role in the community or their capacity to provide rich information. Interviews were taped and all audiotapes were fully transcribed. Data were analyzed using Atlas.ti qualititative data analysis software. Rigor was achieved by meeting Lincoln and Guba's (1985) standards for assessing the trustworthiness of interpretive research.

This study highlights constraints and how people respond to them. Residents of the extreme poverty neighborhood interviewed for this study face significant stressors and challenges simply to live safely in their neighborhood. There are a number of responses by residents to these challenges, including learning how to live within the context of those constraints, working to change those constraints for members of their community by contributing personal strengths and resources, or by trying to leave.

Residents of the neighborhood also report significant employment barriers that are constraining. The residents and service providers alike respond in various ways, including trying to dismantle those barriers, managing within the context of those barriers, or giving up. Service providers and city administrators have tools to intervene but can feel similarly constrained by limited resources, lack of flexibility in how resources can be utilized, program rules and practices, and imposed outcome requirements that occasionally seem counterproductive to shared goals. In each instance, whether responding to the challenges of living within an extreme poverty neighborhood or by responding to employment barriers, residents and service providers require additional supports and resources to strengthen their existing efforts.


Scanned, with permission from the author, from the original print version, which resides in University Archives.


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