Panel: Patterns of Household Economic Instability and Impacts on Child Outcomes: Implications for Measurement and Policy
(Poverty and Income Policy)

Friday, November 3, 2017: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Dusable (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Taryn Morrissey, American University
Panel Chairs:  Taryn Morrissey, American University
Discussants:  Kimberly Burgess, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and Gina Adams, Urban Institute

Within-Year Income Volatility: Contributions from Economic and Household Changes
Elaine Maag1, H. Elizabeth Peters1, Anthony Hannagan2, Cary Lou1 and Julie Siwicki2, (1)Urban Institute, (2)U.S. Financial Diaries Project

Pathways of Persistently Poor Children
Caroline Ratcliffe and Emma Kalish, Urban Institute

Understanding the Effects of State Safety Net and Labor Policies on Family Economic Stability and Health
Sharon Wolf, University of Pennsylvania and Taryn Morrissey, American University

A wealth of research demonstrates that family resource levels (e.g., economic, educational) predict important to disparities in child health and well-being (Brooks-Gunn & Duncan, 2000; Duncan, Morris, & Rodrigues, 2011; McLoyd, 1998). Disadvantaged households also experience greater levels of instability–abrupt, unpredictable, frequent changes in resources–which may explain these disparities beyond resource levels alone. There is growing evidence that high levels of instability and abrupt or dramatic disruptions may be problematic for family well-being and children’s development (Hill et al., 2013; Sandstrom & Huerta, 2013). Yet, the patterns of households’ economic instability, how public policies mitigate or exacerbate these experiences, and the implications for child outcomes are not well understood.


The four papers in this panel examine the patterns of economic instability–including income and job instability–among low- and moderate-income households, the effects on children’s outcomes, and how labor and safety net programs affect these relations. In the first paper, Gennetian discusses the opportunities and challenges in measuring income volatility and investigating its effects on children’s schooling outcomes. She presents and compares multiple constructs of income volatility using both survey data and administrative data from a New York City sample, and then estimates the relations between income volatility and child outcomes. In the second paper, Maag and colleagues take a mixed-methods approach to describing and analyzing income volatility among low- and moderate-income families. They combine nationally representative data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) with detailed information on households experiencing volatility from the U.S. Financial Diaries project, identifying the rates of and risk factors associated with income volatility. The third paper by Ratcliffe and Kalish uses trajectory analyses with longitudinal data from the Panel Study of Income Data (PSID) to examine the pathways that persistently poor children follow into adulthood, attending to how experiences of income volatility predict later economic success. In the final paper, Wolf and Morrissey use data from the SIPP, merged with state policy data, to estimate the impacts of safety net and labor policies, including EITC, TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, and minimum wage levels, on patterns of employment and income instability among households with children. The findings from these four papers shed light on the measurement, patterns, and predictors of economic instability, associations with child outcomes, and the policy interventions effective in mitigating instability. The papers inform how future research can better assess and analyze economic instability and its implications for child well-being.


Our two discussants, Gina Adams and Kimberly Burgess, provide a range of expertise. Adams directs the Urban Institute’s Kids in Context Initiative, which works across program silos to examine and address the challenges that instability creates for children’s healthy development. With experience in local and federal government, Burgess brings a governmental and practice perspective to the panel. Together, they will provide insight into how the papers inform policy, as well as directions for future research. Presentations will provide an interdisciplinary perspective on economic instability, representing public policy, economics, education, and developmental psychology.

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