Working at the Margins

Moving off Welfare in America

By Frances Julia Riemer
Foreword by Frederick Erickson

Subjects: Ethnography
Series: SUNY series, Power, Social Identity, and Education
Paperback : 9780791449264, 317 pages, April 2001
Hardcover : 9780791449257, 317 pages, May 2001

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Introduction: Myths and Realities


1. Development and the Hardest to Serve


Naming the Hardest to Serve
An Institutional History
The Reality of the Hardest to Serve
Conceptualizing the Hardest to Serve
Socialization for Work
Computers in the Learning Lab
Life Skills
Supported Work
The Social Organization of Work
Exceptions to the Rule
Perceiving Inequities
Negotiating the Naming
An Imperfect Fit
Against Each Other
Cooling Out
Full Circle


2. Church Hall and Single Mothers on Welfare


Getting There
Single Mothers and Welfare
Training to Compensate
Blending In
Certification Training
The Work
Local Knowledge
A Professional Hierarchy
Different, Strange, and Even Dangerous
A Lack of Respect
Carving Spaces
Few Options
Protests of Denial
Viewing Practice in Piecemeal


3. Concordance Steps and Southeast Asian Refugees


Refugee as Identity
A Political History
Adult Learners
The Labor Market
Skills Training and Hands-On Learning
Job Placement
The Social Organization of Work
Cambodians Are a Little Better
The Language Barrier
Errors on the Floor
You Have to Know People
Appreciating Kindness
Accommodation in the Workplace
Learning to Juggle


4. Jackson Hospital's Pharmacies and the Cream of the Unemployed


Getting There
The Collaboration
The Best Five
Broad-Based Funding
Learning Specific Knowledge
Getting Hired
An Occupation in Transition
A Good Salary
Active Members
Becoming Supervisors
Embracing the Role
Something's Keeping Us Here



5. Analyzing the Circle


The Pieces of Choosing
Training Programs
Sorting the Poor
The Underclass
Assessment and the Cream of the Unemployed
Ranking Individuals
JTPA and Job Training
Downscaling Training
Defining Work
Making Sense
Distance from an Imperfect Fit
A Better Fit


6. Other Possibilities


Prioritizing Work
Cooling Out at Work
A Foot in the Door
Flexible Training Models
Educational Networks and Supports
Good Jobs, Good Pay, Good Benefits
Bucking the Natural Trend


Appendix A: Ethnographic Methodology and Methods
Appendix B: The People
Appendix C: State Mandated Content of Nurse Aide Training
Appendix D: Church Hall's Clinical Performance Summary
Appendix E: Pharmacy Committees at Jackson's Hospital


Uses case study narratives of marginalized adults in evaluating the move from welfare to work.


Working at the Margins describes and analyzes the move, from welfare rolls to paid employment, of adults who were marginalized from the mainstream by race, ethnicity, language, and economic status. Frances Julia Riemer utilizes ethnographic data gathered over two years from four workplaces that employed thirty seven former welfare recipients. She examines how the private sector accommodates these workers and their differences and how the workers themselves negotiate the barriers they experience. The book illustrates how government policies and adult-education initiatives, designed ostensibly to create opportunities, often reify existing inequalities.

Frances Julia Riemer is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Northern Arizona University.


"These interesting interviews present many stories that will cause concern, but the successes in them will also be cause for celebration. " — Library Journal

"Riemer provides real insights into the process of moving from welfare to work and the often hidden biases of those in positions of power. By delineating the attitudes of all of the parties involved, the concrete circumstances of the workers' work and private lives and the reality of specific workplaces, this ethnographic study gets beyond the facile slogans about the nature of poverty, work, and individual responsibility to provide genuine insight about the problems people face in trying to change their lives. " — Ruth Sidel, author of Keeping Women and Children Last: America's War on the Poor

"The greatest contribution of the book lies in the closeness of its attention to the real situations at the workplace, as viewed by both low income workers and supervisors and co-workers. . . . It is extremely useful as a carefully nuanced, front-line study. " — Ann Withorn, author of Serving the People: Social Services and Social Change