chapter  7
Living on Welfare: Mialisa, Helen, and Vivian
Pages 21

Although the risk statistics presented in the last chapter for adolescent mothers paint a familiar picture of the differences in education, work, and numbers of children that subsequently distinguish welfare from nonwelfare mothers, these figures can mislead us into believing that all adolescent mothers on welfare are similar in their lack of capacity for and motivation to better themselves economically. The interview data, however, suggest a different picture. Adolescent mothers are not a uniform group. Three major subgroups could be differentiated based on their motivation toward use of public assistance. One group of about one third of the New York sample of mothers who were on welfare were successfully using welfare to accomplish the tasks of late adolescence. They were completing educational and job training programs 6 years after the birth of their first child. These resilient women showed remarkable personal strengths and optimism that pulled them forward despite multiple experiences of trauma and high levels of ongoing stress. They matured in their understanding of relationships and of what was needed to survive as adult women.