Date of Conferral







Susan Marcus


Despite the implementation of government programs created to ensure access to job training and education assistance for rural residents, which encourage and support their efforts to change their life trajectory, many rural residents remain unemployed and unable to move beyond poverty. Most research on job training focuses on program effectiveness or epidemiological trends; however, the voices of rural residents' descriptions of their relationship to work and self-sufficiency are missing from the literature. This IPA study explored the meaning of work and self-sufficiency for rural, work-eligible adults using Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory (EST) as the theoretical framework. I used a combination of convenience and snowball sampling to locate and interview 7 unemployed residents of a small rural town in Alabama. Interview questions explored participants' personal ecology to illuminate experiences of finding work, working, not working, and how the meaning of work was expressed with the EST's nested levels. During data analysis, 6 themes emerged: out of work, work experience, unemployed, government subsidies, work meaning, and self-sufficiency. Work meaning was derived from the physical act of working that impacted the life trajectory. Self-sufficiency was viewed as being self-reliant. This study contributes by illustrating the obstacles faced by rural residents when choosing to work. Findings from the study may lead to an understanding of how the meaning of work and self-sufficiency are related to EST for rural, work-eligible adults resulting in positive social change. Local policymakers and stakeholders may reconsider how they design work initiative programs as a result of this study.