The economic safety net for low-income families with children

Publication Year


Journal Article
Following the passage of welfare reform in the mid-1990s and the end of entitlement benefits under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the U.S. economic safety net has become increasingly individualized. In fact, it is no longer clear whether low-income families tend to rely on particular types of public benefits, or whether there are characteristics that differentiate benefit “packaging”. This study examines the combinations of various income sources comprising economic safety nets for low-income families participating in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. The income sources we explore include earnings, child support, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, childcare subsidies, unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), housing subsidies, and Medicaid. We use cluster analysis to determine the most common patterns of income and benefit sources, and identify four distinct clusters of income and benefits that are associated with different family demographic characteristics. The findings from this investigation may be useful to social service programs as they attempt to identify relevant safety net resources for economically struggling families, and to policymakers attempting to reconcile requirements associated with programs and benefits that are regularly combined by beneficiaries.
Children and Youth Services Review