JUST Capstone Research Update: Part 3 – Understanding Non-Traditional Familial Decisions

This is part three in our ongoing Capstone project with JUST whose mission is to invest in low-income, female entrepreneurs to create more resilient communities in America and therefore to create a more just world where people have the chance to live with less stress and more joy. Ana and I shifted our focus to better understand the continued challenges women face today

Our Focus
We are looking to focus on non-traditional families and how they decide, navigate, and communicate financial decisions and division of labor within their home. Children limit a parent’s ability to work, there is a constraint on the actual amount of money a parent is able to bring in due to having less time.

Our Objectives
Our main interest was to learn and understand how non-traditional families go about making financial decisions and how they divide the household labors. We have found that the costs of housing, health care and education are consuming ever larger shares of household budgets, and have risen faster than incomes. Today’s middle-class families are working longer, managing new kinds of stress and shouldering greater financial risks than previous generations did. They’re also making different kinds of tradeoffs, like some that we found in our research like having part time jobs or no jobs at all because of the cost of Childcare, they prefer staying at home and taking care of their kids, but that has financial consequences, and other types of tradeoffs that we are going to find in the themes we mention in this blog post.

The objectives of this research are:
To understand how value is perceived in non-traditional families.
To identify and understand the emotional and monetary journey of parents.
To explore how a non-traditional family decides, navigates and communicates their monthly expenditures.
To explore how non-traditional families divide labor in regards to household tasks.
To understand how a non-traditional family’s access to their network benefits their livelihood.
To empathize in the decision-making process of a non-traditional family.

We spoke to ten participants in order to start doing the themes phase, which are patterns that emerged through the contextual interviews we conducted. We have stories that support the themes we have found.

Theme 1: There is an unarticulated gap between low and middle class

Many of our participants told us how much they struggle to get government aid because of the amount of money they make or having aid taken away because of a small income raise. They are expressing their concerns when it comes to food, health, education and other types of aid. We found that this is the case for many participants.

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Mary: She lives with her boyfriend Nate and they have a 2-year-old boy Eric. She has been living in Austin for ten years, after moving from southern Alabama, where she was born. She is the main bread-winner of the family, working for Government and Nate works part time at a bar, during the day he is a stay at home dad and takes care of little Eric. Childcare is very expensive and it makes more sense for him to stay home than to have him in a daycare. Mary expressed how saavy she is in looking for deals and other ways to save money. However, she and her family is having a lot of trouble because of where she falls in the “income bracket”.

“When I first got this job, Eric was six months old. And I did look into a lot of daycare options, and we make too much money to qualify for government assistance.”

Samantha: She is a single mom with two daughters, one is 17 years old and the other 7 years old. She lives in Austin, but had lived her entire teenage life in the Czech Republic where she got married to a marine, moved to the United States and had her first daughter. After a series of difficulties in her life she now has a full-time job that gives her the flexibility to work and also take care of her two daughters, which she is very grateful. However Samantha has experienced this government assistance issue many times. She told us a story of how she was granted a raise which rescinded her access to SNAP benefits. The minute raise did not add up, and she was left shortchanged in being able to provide adequately for her children., “That raise put me $50 a year over the poverty level. So, they canceled the $120 I was getting for food stamps.” She currently volunteers and works at her daughters’ school to offset the cost they have for attending.

Theme 2: I feel I’m stuck in the cycle of living in ‘survival mode’

Many of our participants expressed living in this constant cycle of ‘survival mode’. The money they make each paycheck disappears in the first few days because of the expensive debt, rent, insurance, childcare and other things they have to take care of. They feel stuck in this cycle of never having enough money, regardless of how many jobs they have.

Sara: She is a new single mother with three kids that she has 50% custody of. The oldest is 12 years old, then the middle is 10 and her youngest is 7 years old. She just got separated but expressed that her ex-husband and her had good terms and worked together for their children’s sake. She currently has three sources of income, one part-time job at an independent bookstore in Austin, as a local children’s musician and monthly support from her ex-husband.
“Between that [singing] and book people in my monthly support from my ex husband, I’m able to survive. I’m not able to take a bunch of vacations or buy myself a new car or anything like that but I’m able to not be worried too much about paying my rent.”

Ivan: Ivan is the male part of a marriage in which his wife is the primary earner, together they have a 3 year old named Brian. Ivan had been in the music industry in Austin and had a fair bit of responsibility at a popular establishment in town. The establishment unexpectedly closed shop and Ivan was left without a job. He is now working two jobs and seeks stability amongst him not being able to make ends meet. He juggles these two jobs and still struggles to make ends meet while not being able to be around his family.

We’re excited to continue our research and learn more about this unseen societal gap. As we continue we’ll update our themes and start formulating insights. Keep your eyes peeled for progress updates as we continue.