Studying the economic security and well-being of low-income working families

Our Issues

We track the well-being of low-income families and analyze the risks and barriers they face in trying to achieve economic security. Many working families struggle to make ends meet, and many lack supports that would help them achieve their financial goals. Our researchers identify policy options to strengthen public and private work supports, promote meaningful employment for adults, and support positive outcomes for children.

Our work advances these objectives through four main activities:

  • Tracking how low-income working families fare during economic booms and busts and examining the factors that contribute to their financial security.
  • Assessing the effectiveness of public and private work supports in the context of real challenges facing low-income families, such as employment instability, low wages, and the prevalence of jobs with nonstandard work hours.
  • Documenting the impact of persistent poverty on children and identifying policies that hold promise for improving their life chances.
  • Recommending strategies to reduce racial and ethnic disparities.

Our Approach

The Low-Income Working Families initiative draws from the wealth of expertise across the Urban Institute. Studying the economic security and well-being of low-income families means considering multiple dimensions of their lives, including employment, housing, health, assets, and criminal justice issues.

We also produce tools that allow policymakers, practitioners, and the public to explore data on their own. For example, the Net Income Change Calculator allows users to see how changes in earnings affect a family’s total income, including the taxes they owe and the safety net benefits they receive. And the interactive Children of Immigrants Data Tool presents data on child, parent, and family characteristics by the child or parent’s nativity and citizenship.

Our Impact

Many of our reports and briefs are used by policymakers and program experts to improve policy and practice. Our recent work on the likely impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on vulnerable children yielded practical information that practitioners can use as they implement reform in their states. We recommended steps states can take to ensure that former foster youth receive health coverage up to age 26, just as other young adults can stay on their parents’ plans up until that age. If effectively implemented, this provision of the ACA could cover nearly 100,000 former foster youth through 2017. Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Washington now automatically enroll youth in Medicaid as they age out of foster care, while California extends Medicaid eligibility to youth who have aged out of foster care in other states.