In our work with hospital workers, we were surprised to find low uptake of public benefits. Local policy makers were concerned that low-income families may not be taking full advantage of these programs, or possibly be experiencing a “benefits cliff” due to wage increases. The “benefits cliff” describes the reduction in eligibility for means-tested public supports that occurs as wages increase, which is sometimes experienced as a sudden loss of benefits and other times manifests as decreasing support that cancels out the effects of wage increases. This research will explore these concerns in-depth by completing in-depth interviews and life histories with parents earning wage increases with children 12 and under. This research is just beginning with data collection beginning in Spring 2020.
- Why do so few families of low-wage service workers utilize public benefits for which they are eligible?
- How does raising wages affect low-wage parents’ access to public benefits, and, therefore, their ability to support and provide for their young children?
- Do available benefits match what families need? In other words, why is it that families who have hardships are not eligible for benefits they obviously need?
- How do parents’ experiences differ by race/ ethnicity, gender, and other sociodemographic characteristics?
Additionally, we will collect new qualitative data for this study using semi-structured interview guides and life history calendars. In-depth interviews enable us to hear from workers about their particular experiences of negotiating the challenges they face and the changes they experience when their wages increase.