Melissa Gilbert “Race, Space, and Power: The Survival Strategies of Working Poor Women”

Echoing the discussion of Markusen, Gilbert provides theory on why poor, urban women are cut off from better paying jobs and remain in the inner city. It is argued that these women are spatially trapped in the inner city, cut off from better jobs typically found in the suburbs. Gilbert however doesn’t blame this spatial entrapment all on social structures, she believes that the intersectionality of race, class and gender interact to prevent mobility to suburbs for homes and jobs. Gilbert doesn’t consider them trapped per se, rather they become rooted in the inner city neighborhood because that is the location of their social ties and networks, which serve as resources and strategies to survive.

gilbert 1Space and power interact to influence mobility of women, especially African American women.  People are spatially bound by two areas, work and home, because of resources and network ties, but there are degrees to the boundedness leading to levels of mobility or immobility. Being mobile gives one a certain power from being able to freely move through spaces on one’s own volition. As opposed to immobility which provides no power. Personal networks provide women with resources such as childcare, transportation, friendship, and family, so they become rooted in areas where these networks are primarily located. However, being rooted in the areas where networks are located can also prevent women from accessing other resources such as jobs, information about jobs, and housing because of the limited strength of these ties. Social networks vary between men and women and even between race and ethnicity. Women’s networks are usually centered around family and community whereas male networks are centered on work ties. In family and church networks are very important to African-Americans. These networks and spatial locations have significant consequences for economic resources and survival strategies for women.

There is an idea that with welfare supplementation, poor women with children can become self-sufficient, find employment, and get off of welfare. This assumption does not take into consideration that women, more so than men, are in low-paying jobs with little to no advancement opportunities and a encounter a substantial gender wage gap. These labor market inequalities are maintained through space and place; women are relegated to certain jobs in certain locations because of factors related to being the primary care provider, including needing to work close to home and daycare, and lack economic resources that would allow them to, a) either move closer to better paying jobs or, b) acquire transportation to commute to those jobs. All of these factors work to prevent women from fully supporting their families on their own.

Gilbert’s research found that African-American women were more spatially trapped than whites.  Gilbert points to several factors for this including residential segregation race of networks these both make them require them to make decisions based on their limited residential locations. Contradictory to their prior notion, African American women traveled 11.29 minutes to work compared to 17.8 minutes for whites. They posit that because mothers also have to make a trip to childcare they require jobs with less commute times so that their overall commuting time is feasible. They found  that adding a trip to childcare locations increased commuting time by 18.2 minutes on average with white women spending more time in total commuting time than African American women which adds to their hypothesis that African American women are more spatially trapped than whites. Many women decide on location of employment, childcare and housing based on other factors including needing help with childcare, hours required to work at their job and what type of job they do. Some women choose their jobs based on hours that allow them to be at home when their children are out of school. Child care influences a lot of their decisions including type of job and hours required. Fifty-eight percent said they did not get their desired job because of childcare responsibilities and 30% said they can go back to school because of a lack of childcare.

Spatial boundaries affect survival strategies because of their space networks can be constraining. Personal networks were very helpful for women to find employment housing and childcare but also can prevent them from finding good quality employment housing and childcare. Different strategies to find employment childcare and housing were employed by African-Americans and white’s. African Americans rely more heavily on kinship ties to find resources while white women relied on a variety of strategies including yellow pages and newspapers. These networks help to spatially bind women to their locations limiting their power of mobility.

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