Parental Loss and Residential Instability: The Impact on Young Women from Low-Income Households in Detroit
High poverty urban areas in the U.S. are over-burdened by early adult death and disability, yet there has been little documentation of how early parental death impacts youth residing in these communities. We conducted qualitative, community-based research on the health and well-being of 20 residentially unstable young women ages 18–24 in Detroit during 2011–2012. Participants were selected through their association with a local social service organization. We found that nine of these 20 young women had experienced the loss of a parent or primary caretaker during childhood or adolescence. Using data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews, this paper explores the role of parental loss as a precipitating event for residential instability and episodic homelessness. For these young women, parental loss was a catalyst for subsequent periods of intermittent homelessness and persistent mobility between the households of extended family and friends. These narratives provide unique testimony to the impact of early parental loss on young women from low-income households in an economically-stressed urban context in the U.S. Their stories highlight the dynamic associations between periods of housing insecurity and vulnerability to numerous social risks, including sexual commerce, acute stress, and alienation from social support networks. In this context, parental loss reflects a broader social inequality of early adult mortality in high poverty areas, and the health and social gains to be realized through targeted policies to support areas of urban economic crisis.
KeywordsParental death Homeless youth Young adult women Urban health Poverty
This research was conducted through the Detroit Youth Passages project, and funded by a grant to the University of Michigan from the Ford Foundation. We would like to acknowledge Alana Gracey, William Lopez, Caitlin Reardon and Joshua Traylor for their support in the development of this manuscript. We would also like to thank the young women who boldly shared their stories with us.
- Ainsworth, M., & Semali, I. (2000). The impact of adult deaths on children’s health in northwestern Tanzania. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2266. Retrieved from http://elibrary.worldbank.org/content/workingpaper/10.1596/1813-9450-2266.
- Barker, M. M. (2011). Manufacturing employment hard hit during the 2007–09 recession. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review, 28–33. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2011/04/art5full.pdf.
- Burgard, S., Seefeldt, K., & Zelner S. W. (2012). Housing instability and health: Findings from the Michigan Recession and Recovery Study. Population Studies Center Research Report No. 12-749. Retrieved from http://www.psc.isr.umich.edu/pubs/pdf/rr12-749.pdf.
- Federal Reserve System. (2012). The U.S. housing market: Current conditions and policy considerations. White Paper, Washington, DC Retrieved from http://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/other-reports/files/housing-white-paper-20120104.pdf.
- Love, C., David, R. J., Rankin, K. M., & Collins, J. W., Jr. (2010). Exploring weathering: Effects of lifelong economic environment and maternal age on low birth weight, small for gestational age, and preterm birth in African-American and White women. American Journal of Epidemiology, 172, 127–134.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Schilling, R. F., Koh, N., Abramovitz, R., & Gilbert, L. (1992). Bereavement groups for inner-city children. Research on Social Work Practice, 2, 405–419.Google Scholar
- Schulz, A. J., Israel, B. A., Zenk, S. N., Parker, E. A., Lichtenstein, R., Shellman-Weir, S., et al. (2006). Psychosocial stress and social support as mediators of relationships between income, length of residence and depressive symptoms among African American women on Detroit’s eastside. Social Science and Medicine, 62, 510–522.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Schulz, A. J., Williams, D. R., Israel, B. A., & Lempert, L. B. (2002). Racial and spatial relations as fundamental determinants of health in Detroit. The Milbank Quarterly, 80, 677–707.Google Scholar
- Skinner, C. (2012). Protecting the safety net in tough times: Lessons from the States. Report from the National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. Retrieved from http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_1061.pdf.
- Sugrue, T. J. (1996). The origins of the urban crisis: Race and inequality in postwar Detroit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Toro, P. A., Dworsky, A., & Fowler, P. J. (2007). Homeless youth in the United States: Recent research findings and intervention approaches. Toward understanding homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Retrieved from http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/homelessness/symposium07/toro/.
- Tremblay, G. C., & Israel, A. C. (1998). Children’s adjustment to parental death. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 5, 424–438.Google Scholar
- U.S. Census Bureau. (2013). State & Country QuickFacts: Detroit, Michigan. Retrieved from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/26/2622000.html.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Framework: Healthy People 2020. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved from http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/consortium/HP2020Framework.pdf.
- U.S. Department of Labor. (2013). Unemployment rates for the 50 largest cities, annual average rankings, Year: 2010. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/lau/lacilg10.htm.
- Williams, D. R. (2005). Patterns and causes of disparities in health. In D. Mechanic, L. B. Rogut, D. C. Colby, & J. R. Knickman (Eds.), Policy challenges in modern health care (pp. 115–134). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar