When Addiction Splices Poverty in Canada: The Elusiveness of “Work-Family Balance?” or, an Opportunity for Re-Visiting the Concept

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Amber GAZSO, York University, Canada
Changing labour market opportunities and social policy supports mean that many Canadians, no matter their family composition, struggle with juggling time spent in employment and caregiving. In this paper, I adopt a feminist political economy perspective and a qualitative method to focus on those whose work-family dynamics are perhaps least understood: individuals living with low income and addiction. Through in-depth interviews with 27 participants (15 women, 12 men), many of whom are parents, I explore whether they experience the juggling of paid and unpaid work and in what ways. In doing so, I additionally unpack the ideologies and assumptions that infuse understandings of work-family balance in academic, political, and policy discourse.

My analysis reveals that when addiction intersects with poverty, participants’ practices often fall outside the hegemonic models and norms of working and family life associated conventional family relations (i.e. nuclear families), sobriety, and consistent connections with the labour market. And yet, participants’ experiences of juggling paid and unpaid work vary greatly depending on marital and family status, employability, and whether they are actively using substances (i.e. alcohol or drugs). For example, some single participants actively use substances and engage in under-the-table paid work but this income supports caregiving relations. Mothers in recovery with children in the care of guardians (e.g. extended family, child welfare services) may have their employability efforts and caregiving regulated by social welfare institutions but this does not mean that attempts at balance are not sought.

Thus, despite challenges posed by economic and social marginalization, to argue that attempts to achieve work-family balance are elusive for individuals living with low income and addiction is an opaque and dubious conclusion. Ultimately, the findings suggest a need to move past conventional understandings of family and work in order to create inclusive scholarship and policy.