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Laboring to Learn: Women's Literacy and Poverty in the Post-Welfare Era.
  • Lorna Rivera, University of Massachusetts Boston

The American adult education system has become an alternative for school dropouts, with some state welfare policies requiring teen mothers and women without high school diplomas to participate in adult education programs to receive aid. Currently, low-income women of color are more likely to be enrolled in the lowest levels of adult basic education. Very little has been published about women's experiences in these mandatory programs and whether the programs reproduce the conditions that forced women to drop out in the first place.

Lorna Rivera bridges the gap with this important study, the product of ten years' active ethnographic research with formerly homeless women who participated in adult literacy education classes before and after welfare reform. She draws on rich interviews with organizers and participants in the Adult Learners Program at Project Hope, a women's shelter and community development organization in Boston's Dudley neighborhood, one of the poorest in the city.

Analyzing the web of ideological contradictions regarding "work first" welfare reform policies, Rivera argues that poverty is produced and reproduced when women with low literacy skills are pushed into welfare-to-work programs and denied education. She examines how various discourses about individual choice and self-sufficiency shape the purposes of literacy, how low-income women express a sense of personal responsibility for being poor, and how neoliberal ideologies and practices compromise the goals of critical literacy programs. Throughout this study, the voices and experiences of formerly homeless women challenge cultural stereotypes about poor women, showing in personal and structural terms how social and economic forces shape and restrict opportunities for low-income women of color.

  • adult education,
  • low-income women,
  • literacy,
  • women of color
Publication Date
University of Illinois Press
Publisher Statement
Awarded the Cyril O. Houle Award for Outstanding Literature in Adult Education, 2009.
Citation Information
Lorna Rivera. Laboring to Learn: Women's Literacy and Poverty in the Post-Welfare Era.. (2008)
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