Brief What Explains the Widespread Material Hardship among Low-Income Families with Children?
Michael Karpman, Dulce Gonzalez, Stephen Zuckerman, Gina Adams
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Using data from the December 2017 round of the Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey, this brief assesses the prevalence of material hardship among parents living with children under age 19, how this varies by family income and ages of children, and the characteristics of low-income parents who report hardships. We then identify factors associated with an increased or reduced risk of material hardship among parents with low incomes, defined as family income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

We find that more than two-thirds (68.5 percent) of low-income parents reported problems paying for housing, utilities, food, or medical care in 2017, with the highest prevalence of hardship found among parents of children under age 6. Physical and mental health problems and disabilities, unexpected declines in income, and unexpected expenses were associated with an increased risk of hardship, after controlling for other characteristics. Access to savings or credit, homeownership, and health insurance coverage were important factors associated with a reduced likelihood of experiencing hardship.

Research Areas Health and health care Families Social safety net Children and youth
Tags Economic well-being Health equity Hunger and food assistance Children's health and development Kids in context Social determinants of health From Safety Net to Solid Ground
Policy Centers Health Policy Center