urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Children & Families

A child holds the hands of two adults

The well-being of children and families is a central Urban Institute research topic. Our work spans child development at the youngest ages to the needs of teenagers aging out of foster care. We study child care, family leave policies, child welfare reform, public supports for families, and children's health and education.

Our Low-Income Working Families project explores the hardships of employed families struggling to make ends meet.

A third of all families with children (13.4 million families) have incomes less than twice the federal poverty line. A sudden job loss or health crisis could derail them. Tax credits, food stamps, child care subsidies, and other work supports help but don’t always close the gap between earnings and basic needs. Urban Institute analysts have proposed new initiatives to protect low-income working families and promote their economic well-being.

Our researchers were the first to estimate how infants and toddlers fared in the competition over federal dollars. The nation's 12.5 million children under age 3 received 2.1 percent ($44.1 billion) of federal domestic spending in 2007 but represent 4.2 percent of the population. Another $13 billion in tax expenditures was spent on infants and toddlers.

Despite extensive research showing the benefits of quality early care and education programs for the youngest kids, especially those in poor families, in 2007 only 7 percent of all spending on children between birth and age 2 went to programs aimed at the very young.

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