Poster Paper: Private Safety Nets Among Families With Young Children

Saturday, November 9, 2013
West End Ballroom A (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Natasha Pilkauskas and Andrea Alvarado Urbina, Columbia University
Since the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act and the creation of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, families have been less able to rely on public support in times of need. Private safety nets (emotional, social, in-kind, financial, residential) may assist families in times of economic or life crisis when public support is not available. Although a number of studies have documented the importance of private support in helping families make ends meet, and other research has linked this support to the wellbeing of families and children, outside of the private financial transfer literature, no studies have estimated the financial value of private safety nets. Given the documented importance of private safety nets, estimating the economic value of those safety nets is an important next step in the literature on safety nets as it allows us to compare the value of private safety nets to public safety nets to more concretely evaluate how families make ends meet.

In this paper we add to the literature on private safety nets by estimating the dollar value of three kinds of private support: childcare from family or friends, private cash transfers and residential support/doubling up. Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study, an urban birth-cohort study of approximately 5,000 births, we describe the use of each of these types of support over time and estimate the dollar value of that support. We then compare the value of private support to public support (e.g. temporary assistance for needy families, supplemental security income and unemployment insurance or workers compensation).

We also study heterogeneity in the value of support networks (and types of support) by race/ethnicity, relationship status, and income as the value and need for private support likely varies by demographic group. A large literature has documented differences in kin support by race/ethnicity and has generally found that minorities have larger kin support networks than white families. However, recent research has found that although the frequency and overall rates of support for white families are lower, the assistance received is generally larger. Estimating the value in dollars can help elucidate differences by race/ethnicity. Similarly, research has also documented differences in private support by relationship status and income. The financial transfer literature has investigated patterns of giving by income and found that economic wellbeing plays a large role in both the ability to give and the likelihood of receiving a transfer. Financial transfers are also generally larger to married mothers than single or cohabiting mothers. We investigate whether these differences persist when considering other types of support (childcare and doubling up). We also move past these earlier studies by looking beyond kin support to include support from the extended network, by using longitudinal data to document support over time, by focusing on families with young children (who may be particularly vulnerable to economic insecurity) and by comparing private support to public support.