How low-income individuals plan for and cope with government support loss
Although trying to survive on a low income is challenging for all individuals, the experience of losing government supports can propel households into a crisis situation which may cause them to act or react in distinctive ways. This study used a survey of 78 low-income women followed by in-depth interviews with 18 of these women to explore how two groups of women--those close to losing government supports (i.e., within three months) and those further from losing government supports (i.e., experienced at least one year ago)--plan for and cope with financially vulnerable periods in their lives and how they fare as a result. There are two parts to this research. First, information on government support use, social support, proactive coping, and overall well-being were gathered using survey techniques. Linear regression and mediation analyses were conducted to further explore the association between these constructs. Proactive coping was found to be a significant predictor of well-being (R2=.305, β=.552, p<.01), but social support did not mediate this relation. Findings from the survey also demonstrated the women in the near loss group scored higher on proactive coping and well-being measures, and the far from loss group scored higher on measures of social support. Second, a sub-sample of the survey participants were chosen for an in-depth interview based on when they lost (or were anticipating to lose) government supports. This sub-sample was invited to discuss their resource loss experience, how they planned for and coped with this loss, and what role other factors such as social support, consideration of future consequences, choice deferral, and perceived transaction costs played in this process and what it meant for their well-being. The conversations with the women revealed that the group near a loss situation deferred decisions less frequently and had shorter planning horizons focusing more on the immediate (and less on the future) consequences of their decisions. While the far from loss group discussed, with less urgency, their plans as being distant and spoke of their more extensive social support networks. Both groups discussed similar sentiments of shame, degradation, and inconvenience associated with their experiences at the welfare office, and although the cost of this transaction outweighed the benefit for the women in the far from loss group, the near loss participants chose to endure it to receive the assistance. This research demonstrated that individuals who face government support loss because of an increase in income and who proactively plan make better strides towards becoming economically self-sufficient and investing in the health and well-being of their families now and in the future. This, in turn, may continue to encourage and promote the ability to act in proactive ways and may lead to greater overall well-being.