, Volume 53, Issue 2, pp 419–447 | Cite as

Trends in Income Insecurity Among U.S. Children, 1984–2010

  • Bruce WesternEmail author
  • Deirdre Bloome
  • Benjamin Sosnaud
  • Laura M. Tach


Has income insecurity increased among U.S. children with the emergence of an employment-based safety net and the polarization of labor markets and family structure? We study the trend in insecurity from 1984–2010 by analyzing fluctuations in children’s monthly family incomes in the Survey of Income and Program Participation. Going beyond earlier research on income volatility, we examine income insecurity more directly by analyzing income gains and losses separately and by relating them to changes in family composition and employment. The analysis provides new evidence of increased income insecurity by showing that large income losses increased more than large income gains for low-income children. Nearly one-half the increase in extreme income losses is related to trends in single parenthood and parental employment. Large income losses proliferated with the increased incidence of very low incomes (less than $150 per month). Extreme income losses and very low monthly incomes became more common particularly for U.S. children of nonworking single parents from the mid-1990s.


Income insecurity Income volatility Poverty Unemployment Children 



This research was supported by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and by grants from the Russell Sage Foundation and the Spencer Foundation. We gratefully acknowledge Kathy Edin and Bob Putnam as well as other members of Harvard’s project on Inequality and Youth Civic Engagement. Seminar participants at University of Wisconsin, University of Washington, and Columbia University also provided valuable feedback on earlier drafts of this article.

Supplementary material

13524_2016_463_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (89 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 88 kb)
13524_2016_463_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (192 kb)
ESM 2 (PDF 192 kb)


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce Western
    • 1
    Email author
  • Deirdre Bloome
    • 2
  • Benjamin Sosnaud
    • 3
  • Laura M. Tach
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Policy Analysis and ManagementCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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