Issue Date: 
October 17, 2011

Poverty, Battered Women, and Work in U.S. Public Policy

By Lisa D. Brush, Pitt sociology professor

Poverty-bookWith October proclaimed Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a new book by Pitt professor of sociology Lisa D. Brush calls for a re-examination of policies designed to keep women economically productive and safe from abusive partners.

In Poverty, Battered Women, and Work in U.S. Public Policy (Oxford University Press, 2011), Brush explores the intersection of poverty, welfare-to-work programs, and partner-perpetrated abuse and coercive control.

According to Brush, physical abuse and other coercive methods of control factor into women’s poverty, their ability to comply with welfare eligibility requirements, and their progress toward safety and solvency through paying jobs.

The researcher offers new insight into three sources of data from Allegheny County: administrative records for women who received welfare or filed for a protective order; interviews with 40 women who together entered a work-first program in 2001; and texts from a community literacy project, in which eight current and former welfare recipients were able to address the stereotyping and stigma they sometimes encountered.

“The administrative data helped us test hypotheses about the costs of taking a beating. The interview data showed us what happens when abuse and abusers follow women to the workplace. The literacy project allowed us to listen to the stories and viewpoints of women who are ordinarily excluded from democratic deliberation,” said Brush. “It gave them a chance to share their visions of what would decrease the poverty and abuse in their lives.”

Mimi Abramovitz, the Bertha Capen Reynolds Professor of Social Work and Social Policy at Hunter College, calls the book “an important text that powerfully exposes the overlapping logics that endorse battering and poverty, promotes a human rights agenda, and gives voice and visibility to the women the book sets out to appreciate and serve.”

—By Sharon S. Blake