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Economic Insecurity and Family Well-Being

Abstract and Keywords

Economic insecurity and family Well-Being is a growing concern for American society. With the dramatic changes that occurred following the “great recession” of 2008, and the lingering effects since, families have experienced stressors and multiple strains in their adjustment to the impact of the changing fiscal climate and their financial demands. To understand the experience of economic insecurity, an understanding of economic security is helpful in providing a context for how these two dynamics emanate and impact families and their Well-Being. This article provides a glimpse of how the fragility of the economy and the mental tax experienced by the family are inextricably interdependent and connected.

Keywords: economic security, economic resilience, family Well-Being, systems theory, the economy, employment


Any discussion of economic insecurity must encompass an understanding of how economic stability is conceptualized. To understand economic security it is prudent to briefly discuss the dynamics of economic stability. There are differing schools of thought with respect to economic stability. The concept of economic stability is rooted in what is seen as a constant interplay of the global economic markets. This interaction creates equilibrium and disequilibrium in the economic environment. The authors Wolff (2009), Tiganas (2011), and Hacker, Rehm, and Schlesinger (2010) suggest that the dynamics of the global market economies create the fluctuations in the economic macro systems, which then in turn influences the domestic and global markets. These variant macroeconomic systems are affected by changes in the transactional markets that put an inordinate strain on the business of the labor markets. If these markets are functioning at a level where they are productive, and the outputs of the productivity are consumed by domestic and global economies, then there is a sense of economic stability experienced by all participants.

With economic stability there is a level of security experienced by the members of society, which in turn promotes active participation in the economic markets. Wolff (2009) has referred to this participation as a culture of consumption. This consumption is demonstrated by the behaviors of the members of society who are buying more, assume a level of economic security, and who from this sense of security engage in economic decisions based on their sense of security. This “safety net” illusion is created from an exaggerated sense of economic confidence that is reinforced by bloated consumption options available within a heightened credit flexibility environment that may compete and obscure the economic reality for many American families. This belief system has historically held true for Americans for over thirty years since The Great Depression of the 1930s. However, this began to slowly erode during the 1970s, when wages stopped rising and consumption continued (Wolff, 2009). As a result of this, workers began to work more to sustain and buffer their culture of consumption. They took on credit and loans that were offered by banks, to satiate their consumption, and to meet their basic needs. In addition to this, the manner in which workers worked also changed. In the 1970s, with the advent of new industrial and manufacturing technologies and computer based developments, workers began to lose their jobs and were replaced by machines and technology at an even greater rate than in previous generations. With the infusion of technology came an exclusion from participation in certain economic markets, where knowledge of technological systems was a necessity. Most people were not prepared educationally to enter into technology-driven jobs nor were the educational systems needed to train future workers prepared to provide the necessary training and development. As a result of job displacement workers lacking skills in new technologies sometimes lost their homes, their standard of living was compromised, and there was a rising numbers of unemployed. With these changes came an increased reliance on safety net social programs (Wolff, 2013). Mezzo systems such as neighborhoods, churches, schools, and other local organizations were overburdened, increasing their reliance on governmental systems and other privately funded programs to assist in absorbing the aftershocks of these economic challenges in ways that had not been anticipated. The resulting economic effects that shifted workers away from a sense of economic stability and toward economic insecurity were related to the structural changes occurring in the external and internal environments. Ultimately, this concentric imbalance has potentially contributed to an economic situation that dramatically impacts individual and family Well-Being. When examining global economies and economic conditions, both the International Labour Office (2003) and the World Bank (2004) report on world development and indicate that globally about 73% of all workers live in circumstances of economic insecurity. Economic insecurity is noted as the outstanding economic and social problem in the world (Nef, 1995). The United Nations echoes the concerns of the International Labour Office and the World Bank, suggesting that the status of global economic insecurity has reached intolerable levels United Nations Department of International Economic and Social Affairs (UNDIESA, 1993). The International Labour Office further suggests that economic insecurity is a crisis that impacts family Well-Being globally.

Defining Family Well-Being

When we consider a definition of family Well-Being we have to first understand that there is no universal definition of family Well-Being. Wollny, Apps, and Henricson (2010) view family Well-Being in general terms such as “health, happiness, comfort, contentment, and prosperity” (p. 2). Xiao (2012) summarizes economic family Well-Being “as a status that has sustainable economic resources to live a comfortable life” (p. 573). Others have considered the term economic family Well-Being as originating from economists (Wollny, Apps, & Henricson, 2010). What is generally agreed upon in the literature (Robertson, 2003; Cotterell, Wheldon, & Milligan, 2008; Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders, 2012) is that we must take into consideration differing factors when conceptualizing what family Well-Being might look like. As McGregor (2007) states “Well-Being cannot be thought of only as an outcome, but only as a state of being that arises from the dynamic interplay of outcomes and processes” (p. 6). This multidimensional construct and the dynamic interplay of divergent factors influencing family Well-Being are textured by physical, psychological, economic, interpersonal/relational, spiritual, and a mosaic of cultural domains. The cultural domains are informed by the multidimensional factors associated with race/ethnicity and the embraced culture of the family. Behaviors and stressors are interpreted within the cultural context of the racial/ethnic group’s philosophical underpinning of the family. The experience of economic insecurity can take on different meaning across the racial/ethnic and cultural dyad. These factors can have an influence on family Well-Being. For example, poor Hispanic and black families are more likely to be uninsured and in poorer health (Children’s Defense Fund, 2012). Ethnic and religious minority families living in poverty are more likely to experience poor health care, inadequate housing, and inadequate food security. Native American families face unique conditions of economic insecurity and poverty (Austin, 2013). Families from various cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds who are in economic trouble may also experience the challenge of access to services to buffer the impact of financial distress arising from their own economic insecurity (Waldinger, 1995).

There is, however, anecdotal variance on family Well-Being based on geography, cost of living, the collected needs and differences of the individual members in the family, as well as the collective needs of the family as a dynamic system. Families living in rural environments experience difficulty accessing needed health, education, and income assistance programs to meet their basic needs. Meanwhile, families living in urban areas may live in food deserts, where healthy choices of food are little to none. Families living in the urban areas can find it challenging to survive the cost of living in those areas and experience significant difficulty finding safe and decent affordable housing. The interaction of these domains will at differing points serve as either protective factors or risk factors that can challenge family homeostasis. This also effects the family’s ability to adapt to any impingement rendered by these domains or multiple stress points. For example, when the primary wage earner losses his or her job, this loss can place the family in a position of frustration, shame, and fear for the family’s ability to survive and overcome the economic strain imposed by this loss of income. The families that can absorb the imbalance rendered by the loss of the primary provider’s income are those that, in the presence of an equilibrium shift, can leverage and benefit from built-in protective factors.

Clearly identified, sustainable, and consistently evaluated protective factors of family Well-Being are crucial for family survival. Families that do not have these factors or reserves are most likely to be impacted by the variance in those domains that influence their overall Well-Being.

Economic Resilience

Economic family Well-Being appears to correlate to sustained periods of national economic security that provides a context for and confidence in economic fluidity, growth, and resiliency. Economic resilience is also noted when families have a secure hold in the labor market and have a realistic understanding of their economic resources, and are not caught in what Wolff (2009) refers to as “American Exceptionalism.” Individuals and families are vulnerable to this when they get entrenched in behavioral consumerism that is not sustainable for them. Wolff describes this as the behavior of purchasing on credit, mortgages, and reliance on loan programs which can often erroneously create an illusion of stability and prosperity, as these are artificial supports.

Economists who view economic family Well-Being by measures of “subjective and objective” indicators (Clark, Frijters, & Shields, 2008; Di Tella & MacCulloch, 2006; Frey & Stutzer, 2002; Kahneman et al., 2006; and Xiao, 2012) describe these objective and subjective measures as tangible and intangible dimensions. These subjective and objective dimensions are money attitude, materialism, consumer confidence, and financial satisfaction (Xiao, 2012, p. 574).

The family’s ability to recover from adverse economic events, stressors, and strains is a significant and can impact family economic Well-Being. Family economic Well-Being occurs when there is at least the minimum of earned income to individuals and families, as well as when economic development and income support programs that provide emergency assistance are well funded.

Theoretical Framework

Foucault (1994a, 1994b) suggests that the economic and empirical studies of De Marchi & Blaug, 1991; Lawson, 1997, 2003; and Mäki, 2001 do not get to the “real” economic forces or mechanisms that underlie variance in the economies, such as the factor of humanism that lie beneath. He suggests that analogous empirical studies do not significantly factor in, nor emphasize the norms of human behavior with respect to how they also influence and play a powerful role in the economy. These empirical studies historically reveal norms of behavior, modes of theorizing, and ways of formulating assumptions. They neglect the realism of their impact on the economies. Yet, it is these assumptions that shape and characterize different schools of thought in economics, without taking into consideration the human factors that can be taken on face value and negate social realities. Ultimately, these types of studies and schools of thought miss in their analysis an understanding of humankind by underestimating the cultural affinity against deprivation. They are likely to miss the importance of the inherent systemic attempts, within a family and a culture, to satiate the desire for consumption in the face of diminishing resources. Gutting (1989) supports this assertion in his comment that “modern economic discourse constructs a human being which has to labor to satisfy its needs, in its confrontation or rather struggle with scarcity” (p. 17). Phang (2004), address this need with respect to the entwining of human identity and culture in economic performance. This intertwining suggests that there is a psychological drive to fend against the full impact of economic despair. The collective individual identities, such as culture and society group membership, serve to reinforce the need to maintain a sense of stability. The sustaining of this economic stability not only creates dysfunctional personal identity but also impacts other aspects of the social group, that is, families, social and interpersonal relationships, co-workers, communities, and so on. This contaminating effect creates a feeding frenzy of dysfunctional behavior, which becomes the norm. Wolff (2009) describes this behavior as the markets change to accommodate the needs of the members of cultural groups by creating what he refers to as a “borrowing binge.” This binge is the consumption of artificial supports that perpetuate the perception of personal values, inflated financial access, and material success. This perception is reinforced and sustained by the ease of obtaining credit cards, subprime mortgages, and other personal loans. The creation of these economic opportunities under the guise of credit and unsecured debt, has exhausted the working class from the stress and strain of trying to maintain a sense of economic stability, and has left many feeling as if they are barely treading water. For those members of society that fall in this category, an economic apartheid has been created. The suffering of this oppressive weight comes with consequences such as “malice-envy,” a term coined by Marcus Alexis (Alexis, 1999). Alexis operationalizes this term as the behavior associated with attempts to level the playing field for everyone. This leveling comes with charged emotional/psychological responses, that is, deviant behavior, psychiatric disturbances, and mental illness manifested as anxiety, depression, and psychotic disturbances. This in turn has a profound impact on individuals, family Well-Being, and societal Well-Being.

The systems theoretical framework proposed by Ludwig Von Bertalanffy (1969) is particularly relevant to social work practice, as it postulates a way of conceptualizing the interactions and dynamics between people and the social systems within their social environment. The lens activated within this paradigm illuminates the fact that systems have interdependent and interactive relationships. Systems rarely if at all function in isolation. Families are systems that are interacting, interdependent, and impacted by the larger systems that they are surrounded by. In fact, these larger systems can influence and determine the functional environment of the family. These larger systems are referred to as macro systems that can influence and impact family functioning in the system. The degree to which this occurs varies, and is influenced by boundaries of the macro system, which is the nature of interacting subsystems that are concentric by nature yet variable in their permeability. Depending on how the macro system operates these systems can, as cited by Compton, Galaway, and Cournoyer (2005), [effect] “the performances of one part of the system [that can in turn] affect the whole—perhaps bringing everything to a halt” (p. 25). Systems theory is useful in helping to not only illustrate how parts of the whole are functioning but also how change can have dramatic effects on the Well-Being of a family.

While the family is considered a system, it is also a subsystem, and is considered an environment for members of the family system. This environment includes the subsystems of the larger system, which can be children, adults, and other members of the family systems. There are complex interactions between members of these interdependent systems. The interactions of these systems most often experience a reciprocal exchange of demands, resources, support, and expectations. Members of the family systems, as well as the subsystem, are reliant on the sustenance of environmental structures for economic resources to meet basic economic needs. These essential resources most often come from family members’ employment, and when there are economic strains as a result of unemployment then the external social structures from macro or mezzo systems, that is, safety net programs, can provide needed financial assistance.

The Economy and the Family

The longest recession in the United States, which began in 2008 and was reported to have technically ended in 2010 (Gauthier & Furstenberg, 2010), continues to have broad and lingering effects on families and their Well-Being. This economic downturn has affected all income groups. Many low- and middle-income families are experiencing multiple stressors as they face the challenges of economic hardship associated with the economic changes produced by this downward spiral. This “great recession” is characterized by bank failures, the collapse of the U.S. housing market, and a global tightening of credit. This has resulted in high unemployment rates, housing foreclosures, and a “national sense of economic uncertainty with potential deleterious consequences for American families” (Payne, 2011, p. 1). As cited by Berry Gomes, & Major (2013) “for many, the conditions of the economic climate are not transient but continual and catastrophic” (p. 256). Treas (2010) suggest that for many families economic stress and despair has been mounting prior to the “great recession.” These are families who are low to middle income, who have been experiencing strain and challenges associated with job loss, the loss of employment-based health coverage, joblessness, employment instability, and effective and sustainable money management strategies. In Treas’s analysis of the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted in 2004, which highlighted the vulnerabilities of families prior to the current recession, she reports that the GSS identified these families as ones that could not rebound from the experience of joblessness. In the cross section of families surveyed, people reported falling behind on their rent and mortgages. They had difficulty buying food and meeting their basic needs. These families were debt burdened and could not make ends meet. The jobs that are available for many of those who have experienced job loss are in low-paying positions, and these jobs that are lower paying than the jobs that were lost, thereby placing them in the category of the underemployed. Many of these families express feeling financially stuck, and in a never ending cycle (Fessler, 2014). It is reported that 40% of those without jobs experience long-term unemployment, and the continuance of unemployment benefits is dependent upon the U.S. Congress extending benefits. At the close of 2013, approximately 1.3 million Americans lost their unemployment benefits (Plummer, 2013; and National Employment Law Project, 2013). Many of these families had little to no economic reserves to protect them from the economic downturn and they now find themselves in poverty. As cited by Gauthier & Furstenberg (2010), this “great recession [should be] considered an event that aggravated and compounded pre-existing financial fissures in the working population at large” (p. 5).

U. S. Bureau of Census (2010) data indicate that an additional 2.6 million people had slipped into poverty since 2008, and that the number of Americans who live below the official poverty line is 46.2 million. These are Americans whose income falls below the official federal poverty level of $23,050 for a family of four. Those American families of four whose income level is below, $11,525 are considered to be in extreme or deep poverty. Many of these families are female-headed households. For poor black families more than half are reported to be female-headed families. Census data from 2010 indicates that poverty rates for all groups of women were substantially higher than poverty rates for their male counterparts. More than 50% of Hispanics and Native Americans were living in poverty. Poverty rates for Asian women and men rose significantly from 2000 to 2010. For seniors 65 and older, twice as many women (2.4 million) as men (1.2 million) lived in poverty in 2010. When comparing the poverty data for children there was an increase in the poverty rate from 16.2% in 2000 to 22.0% in 2010 (Emily & Sawhill, 2011). There were over 4.8 million more children living in poverty in 2010 compared to 2000 (National Women’s Law Center, 2012. Census, 2010 data reveals that from 2000 to 2010 poverty rates increased among both single parent families and married couple families with children. For persons receiving income from Social Security, it is reported in the 2010 Census data that over 20 million more people would have lived in poverty had they not received social security income, including nearly 14 million adults 65 and older and 1.1 million children. The dispersion of poverty has been increasing over the past twenty years, and findings from the latest Census revealed the highest number of Americans living in poverty since the Census Bureau began publishing these data 52 years ago (Tavernise, 2011). With this changing landscape, families are experiencing the brunt of the rising economic insecurity that American society continues to experience. It is estimated by Rank (2013) that “40% of Americans between the ages of 25-60 will experience poverty for at least one year below the official poverty line [and that] 54% will spend a year in poverty or near poverty” (p. 1). This official poverty line “does not reflect the cost of living, particularly in large metropolitan areas. If it reflected the cost of housing, transportation and health care accurately, researchers estimate that about 100 million Americans would be considered poor” (Reisch, 2013, p. 1). The pervasive issues with the economy have created a sense of economic insecurity that is likely to be a persistent aspect of the economic landscape for the foreseeable future. The federal and state safety net programs that have traditionally provided support to individuals and families in economic need are dwindling. There are fewer income support programs for families in economic trouble and there is little to no help with escalating medical and educational costs.

Safety Net Programs and the Family

Traditionally when families experienced economic strain associated with income loss and the inability to meet their financial needs, socioeconomic safety net programs provided options to families in need. These programs support the family’s Well-Being. Families can turn to a variety of social programs funded by federal and state governments who have the sole purpose and primary goal of aiding low-income Americans and reducing/preventing poverty. There are 13 categories of federal welfare programs. State programs and nonprofit organizations are also available as social safety net programs. These programs vary by geographic location, and they provide food, housing, counseling, and other benefits. Many of these programs have experienced significant cuts and eliminations. Following the federal sequestration that occurred during fiscal year 2013 several programs were cut or their funding was severely reduced as proposed in the Office of Management and Budget (2012) report pursuant to the Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012. Funding cuts of 2% were made to Medicare, and there was a 8.2% reduction to non-defense funding. Included among the latter were cuts in educational grants, benefits for middle-class seniors and children, housing, and food assistance programs. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program known as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children)) was reduced by 8.6%; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) experienced a 7.6% reduction. HUD (Housing and Urban Development) experienced cuts of 7.6%. Student Financial Assistance in the form of Pell Grants were cut by 8.2%. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was cut 7.6%. Children and Family Services Programs, including Head Start, was cut 8.2%. Cuts for job training programs was 8.2%. Child care vouchers were cut by 8.2%, and the low income energy assistance program (LIHEAP) was reduced by 8.2% (OMB Publication P.L.112-155, 2013). According to Toder, Nunns, and Rosenberg (2011) of the Urban Institute projections for severe federal deficit cuts in the future suggest that the conditions brought on by the economic recession that began in 2008 will further threaten the economic Well-Being of families. The following safety net programs are those programs that provide-cash equivalent assistance to families:

  • Negative Income Tax—Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit. This program provides cash to working families who pay no income tax. There are tax credit programs that are administered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to distribute money to low-income Americans. Tax credits are provided in the form of a “refundable” portion which is paid to individuals and families that owe no income tax for the year. This portion of the tax credits is considered a “negative income tax.”

  • SNAP—A food program for low-income individuals and families. This program was initially referred to as the food stamp program and stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Funds for this program are managed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Participants receive a debit card which is accepted in most grocery stories for the purchase of food.

  • Housing Assistance—There are various housing programs that are administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These programs include rental assistance, public housing, and several community development grants.

  • SSI—Low-income individuals over 65 years of age or under 65 if the individual is blind or disabled, receive cash benefits. SSI stands for Supplemental Security Income and is administered by the Social Security Administration.

  • Pell Grants—The Department of Education distributes up to $5,550 to students from low-income households to promote postsecondary education (colleges and trade schools).

  • TANF—A federal and state program that pays cash to low-income households with the goal of moving individuals from welfare to work. TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Child Nutrition

These are food programs administered by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) that include school lunch, breakfast, after school programs, and “weekend survival kits.” Child nutrition programs target children from low-income households and provide free or reduced price meals.

  • Head Start—A pre-school program available to kids from low-income families. This program is funded and administered by HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

  • Job Training Programs—The Department of Labor (DOL) has numerous programs to provide job training as well as displacement and employment services generally targeting low-income Americans.

  • WIC—A program to provide healthy food to pregnant women and children up to five years of age. The WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program is available to low-income households.

  • Child Care—The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) administers a block grant program to states and local public and private agencies who administer child care programs to low-income families.

  • LIHEAP—The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program administered by Health and Human Services (HHS) provides assistance to low-income households that pay a high proportion of household income for home energy, either heating or cooling a residential dwelling.

  • Lifeline (Obama Phone)—This program administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) makes available discounted phone service, including cell phones, to low-income individuals (Skinner, 2012).

The current safety net programs have not been researched for an understanding of how they affect family Well-Being, however, researchers and policymakers intend to assess the impact of these programs. Gassman-Pines and Hill (2013) suggest that “the impacts are likely broader than those outcomes directly targeted by the programs” (p. 172). With persistent unemployment there may be changes in how these programs will work for those families who are affected. These changes could impact family Well-Being as eligibility for some programs may be impacted.

Employment and Family Well-Being

The changes in the employment market since the onset of the economic recession have been significant. In 2010, unemployment reached a highpoint of 9.4% (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011); there has been limited job growth in the private sector, and job instability is steadily rising. The numbers of Americans seeking unemployment compensation were higher than in previous decades and close to the numbers during the Great Depression. Housing prices fell and banks recorded losses (Acs & Nichols, 2010). Fulltime jobs are hard to find, unemployment has risen, and there is a decline in employment opportunities. Data from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research suggested that the United States was experiencing unemployment rates not seen since the early 1980s (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). Several studies have suggested that 40% of families whose economic circumstances found them in poverty experienced a loss of employment (Cellini, Mckernan, & Ratcliffe, 2008). The data raises significant concerns regarding the consequences of income volatility for families (Payne, 2011).

The strain of limited employment opportunities, unemployment, and income stagnation has a significant impact on families. There are individual and systemic stressors within and between family members which are impacted by loss, and the inability to meet their financial needs. The worries and preoccupation that families internalize over their financial circumstances have raised concern for researchers. McLanahan (2004) found that family Well-Being was a concern in times of economic insecurity and families are fragile. Families are experiencing higher rates of poor health, and rising rates of disease and mortality can be directly associated with economic insecurity. There are significant effects of economic fragility and deprivation on the health and mental health of individuals and families. There are scores of cases that appear in the nation’s health and social services agencies that illustrate the depth of the despair and emotional disconnections of individuals, and families, and their attempt to cope with the harsh economic realities that they and their loved ones shoulder.

Implications for Social Work

To address the multidimensional concerns of families experiencing economic insecurity, social workers must employ a multisystemic approach to prevention, education, training, and advocacy. Relevant interventions that are informed with an understanding of the impact of the economy on families is essential. Social workers should be involved in prevention programming to minimize the risk factors associated with economic insecurity. Involvement in educational programs that inform agencies and other governmental institutions about the needs of families who are experiencing economic insecurity is an essential component of addressing the multitude of concerns these families present with. As professionals, social workers should be at the forefront in educating legislators and communities regarding the nature of economic insecurity and its consequences for families. An understanding of the experience of economic insecurity must be added to social work curricula in institutions of higher learning. Human service programs will look to social workers to provide training for professionals who assist in the provision of services to families, in making proper referrals, and providing clinical treatment for family members who experience psychological distress associated with their economic circumstances. Finally, social workers must communicate the compelling narrative of these families in their advocacy for legislation and funding of safety net programs that can buffer the experience of economic insecurity.


With economic insecurity comes a mental tax an economic PTSD that can develop into psychopathologies, that is, panic, depression, and anxiety, triggered by the stress that accompanies the negative life events associated with income loss and diminished resources. Psychiatric disorders that were dormant can also be exacerbated by stress associated with threats to financial security. Research by Schuring , Burdorf, Kunst, Vorrham & Mackenbach (2009) indicates that poor mental health and physical health are more common among the unemployed than the employed. Researchers have shown that with income and job insecurity and instability, individuals experience increased stress and experience negative health outcomes (Blackely, Collings, & Atkinson, 2003; Brenner & Mooney, 1983; Catalano & Dooley, 1983; Dean & Wilson, 2009; Murphy & Athanasou, 1999; Tausig & Fenwicj, 1999; Viinamaki, Hintikka, Kontula, Niskanen, & Koskela, 2000).

Times of financial hardship brought on by economic and employment insecurity and job loss is a major concern for family Well-Being, and can be seen as a potential public health concern. The full burden of economic insecurity experienced by families is not limited to the primary income earner but can include individual members of the family system. Each member may express their burden in differing manifestations. Threats to the economic Well-Being of the family can result in a lower level of functioning for individual members of the family, which in turn can affect the family’s Well-Being. There is a clear causal relationship between family Well-Being and economic insecurity, especially for those families in the low to middle income economic range. With the economic challenges associated with the “great recession” and the economic insecurity experienced in the American society, a societal anxiety exists that directly impacts families and has the potential to result in a myriad of symptoms of dysfunctions that have the capacity to challenge the Well-Being of the family.


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                                                                                                              Further Reading

                                                                                                              Blakely, T. A., Collings, S. C. D., & Atkinson, J. (2003). Unemployment and suicide. Evidence for causal association?. Journal of Epidemiological Community Health, 57, 594–600.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                Bould, S., Crespi, I., & Schmaus, G. (2012). The cost of a child, mother’s employment behavior and economic insecurity in Europe. International Review of Sociology, 22(1), 5–23.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                  Cass, J. (2010). “Held captive”: Child poverty in America. A Children’s Defense Fund Report. Retrieved from this resource:

                                                                                                                    Chien, N. C., & Mistry, R. S. (2013). Geographic variations in cost of living: Associations with family and child Well-Being. Child Development, 84(1), 209–225.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                      Children’s Defense Fund. (2005). Defining poverty and why it matters for children. Retrieved from

                                                                                                                      Children’s Defense Fund (2010). The state of Americas child. Retrieved from

                                                                                                                      Children’s Defense Fund (2012a). Portrait of inequality 2012: Black children in America. Retrieved from

                                                                                                                      Children’s Defense Fund (2012b). Portrait of inequality 2012: Hispanic children in America. Retrieved from

                                                                                                                      Chien, N. C., & Mistry, R. S. (2013). Geographic variations in cost of living: Associations with family and child well‐being. Child Development, 84(1), 209–225.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                        Curran, L. B., Wolman, H., Hill, E. W., & Furdell, K. (2006). Economic wellbeing and where we live: Accounting for geographical cost-of-living differences in the US. Urban Studies, 43(13), 2443–2466.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                          Damon, A., & Grey, B. (2013, October 29). Cutting food stamps: The ruthlessness of the American ruling class. Retrieved November 8, 2013 from

                                                                                                                          Denney, J. T., McNown, R., Rogers, R. G., & Doubilet, S. (2013). Stagnating life expectancies and future prospects in an age of uncertainty. Social Science Quarterly, 94(2), 445–461.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                            Dew, J., & Xiao, J. J. (2011). The financial management behavior scale: Development and validation. Journal of Financial Counseling & Planning, 22(1), 43–59.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                              Dominitz, J., & Manski, C. F. (1997). Perceptions of economic insecurity: Evidence from the survey of economic expectations. Public Opinion Quarterly, 61, 261–287.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                Falk, G. (2012). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): Welfare-to-work revisited. Retrieved November 18, 2013 from

                                                                                                                                Greenberg, D. H., Deitch, V., & Hamilton, G. (2010). A synthesis of random assignment benefit- cost studies of welfare-to-work programs. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, 1(1).Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                  Hanson, J. L., Hair, N., Shen, D. G., Shi, F., Gilmore, J. H., Wolfe, B. L., et al. (2013). Family poverty affects the rate of human infant brain growth. PloS one, 8(12), e80954.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                    Harris, D. A., & Parisi, D. (2008). Welfare and family economic security: Toward a place-based poverty knowledge. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 35, 97.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                      Hill, E., St Clair, T., Wial, H., Wolman, H., Atkins, P., Blumenthal, P., et al. (2011). Economic shocks and regional economic resilience. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Building Resilient Regions at the University of California. Berkeley: University of California.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                        Immergluck, D. (2012). Related risks: Foreclosure, health problems and economic insecurity in the USA. Housing, Theory and Society, 29(1), 25–30.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                          Jensen, E. The effects of poverty on the brain. Retrieved January 13, 2014 from

                                                                                                                                          Johnson, N., Oliff, P., & Williams, E. (2011). An update on state budget cuts: At least 46 states have imposed cuts that hurt vulnerable residents and cause job loss. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved November 18, 2013 from this resource:

                                                                                                                                            Kahn, J. R., Goldscheider, F., & García-Manglano, J. (2013). Growing parental economic power in parent–adult child households: Coresidence and financial dependency in the United States, 1960–2010. Demography, 50(4), 1449–1475.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                              Kelly-Princton, M. (2013, August 30). Poverty does bad things to your brain. Retrieved November 8, 2013 from

                                                                                                                                              Lipina, S. J., & Posner, M. I. (2012). The impact of poverty on the development of brain networks. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 6, 112.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                Mauno, S., & Kinnunen, U. (2002). Perceived job insecurity among dual‐earner couples: Do its antecedents vary according to gender, economic sector and the measure used? Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 75(3), 295–314.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                  McCloud, L., & Dwyer, R. E. (2011). The fragile American: Hardship and financial troubles in the 21st century. The Sociological Quarterly, 52(1), 13–35.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                    McKenzie, D., Gibson, J., & Stillman, S. (2007). A land of milk and honey with streets paved with gold: Do emigrants have over-optimistic expectations about incomes abroad? (No. 2788). IZA Discussion Papers.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                      Momjian, V., & Munroe, K. (2011). Economic insecurity, mental health, and the economic crisis in New York City. Western Journal of Black Studies, 35(3), 196–207.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                        Morgan, L. A. (2000). The continuing gender gap in later life economic security. Journal of aging & social policy, 11(2–3), 157–165.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                          Mughan, A. (2007). Economic insecurity and welfare preferences: A micro-level analysis. Comparative Politics, 293–310.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                            National Employment Law Project. (2013). Federal Neglect Leaves State Unemployment Systems in a State of Disrepair. Retrieved from

                                                                                                                                                            Oliff, P., Palacios, V., Johnson, I., & Leachman, M. (2013). Recent Deep State Higher Education Cuts May Harm Students and the Economy for Years to Come. Washington, DC: Center for Budget & Policy Priorities.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                              Parrott, S., Kogan, R., Ruffini, K., & Chen, W. (2013). Chart book: Deficit reduction, the economy, and the budget negotiations. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from

                                                                                                                                                              Pedulla, D. S. (2012). To be young and unemployed. New Labor Forum, 21(3), 26–36.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                Phang, S. Y. (2004). House prices and aggregate consumption: do they move together? Evidence from Singapore. Journal of Housing Economics, 13, 101–119.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                  Proctor, B. D. (2002). Poverty in the United States: 2001. Washington, DC: Census Bureau, US Department of Commerce.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                    Rappaport, A. M. (2012). Implications of the economy for postretirement economic security and benefits. Benefits Quarterly, 28(2), 7–17.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                      Saunders, P., & Lujun, S. (2006). Poverty and hardship among the aged in urban China. Social Policy & Administration, 40(2), 138–157.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                        Schlesinger, M. (2011). Making the best of hard times: How the nation’s economic circumstances shaped the public’s embrace of health care reform. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 36(6), 989–1020.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                          Settersten, R.A., & Ray, B. (2010). What’s going on with young people today? The long and twisting path to adulthood. Retrieved from

                                                                                                                                                                          Sharma, K. (2010). The impact of remittances on economic insecurity. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 11(4), 555–577.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                            Shonkoff, J. P., Garner, A. S., Siegel, B. S., Dobbins, M. I., Earls, M. F., McGuinn, L., et al. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), e232–e246.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                              Smith, J. R., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (2002). How mothers cope when their welfare grant is cut. The Social Policy Journal, 1(4), 63–83.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                Smith Nightingale, D., Taylor O’Brein, C., Egner, M., Pindus, N., & Trutko, J. (2003). Welfare-to-work grants programs: Adjusting to changing circumstances. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                  Smits, A. W. M. (2010). The role of parents in their adult children’s housing and residential locations. (dissertation).Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                    Steuerle, E., Reischauer, R. D., Simms, M., Golden, O., Rueben, O., & Dubay, L. (2011). Today’s children, tomorrow’s America: Six experts face the facts. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                      Stiglitz, J. E. (2008, November). Reversal of fortune. Vanity Fair. Retrieved November 12, 2014 from this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                        Ulriksen, M. S. (2012). How social security policies and economic transformation affect poverty and inequality: Lessons for South Africa. Development Southern Africa, 29(1), 3–18.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                          Western, B., Bloome, D., Sosnaud, B., & Tach, L. (2012). Economic insecurity and social stratification. Annual Review of Sociology, 38, 341–359.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                            Wills-Herrera, E., Orozco, L. E., Forero-Pineda, C., Pardo, O., & Andonova, V. (2011). The relationship between perceptions of insecurity, social capital and subjective Well-Being: Empirical evidences from areas of rural conflict in Colombia. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 40(1), 88–96.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                              Yu, J. (2013). Multidimensional poverty in China: Findings based on the CHNS. Social indicators research, 112(2), 315–336.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                Yuan, H., & Golpelwar, M. (2013). Testing subjective Well-Being from the perspective of social auality: Quantile regression evidence from Shanghai, China. Social indicators research, 113(1), 257–276.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Zhang, Q. F. (2004). Economic transition and new patterns of parent‐adult child co-residence in Urban China. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(5), 1231–1245.Find this resource:


                                                                                                                                                                                                    U’nek Brown Clarke, BSW, Candidate MSW 2014, Graduate Research Assistant, Howard University School of Social Work