Since the 1970s, Americans’ household incomes have become more volatile, fluctuating year-to-year and week-to-week. Increased income volatility is particularly prominent among low-income families, many of whom are served by the U.S. system of means-tested income support programs. These programs provide income, goods, and services to families who prove that their income (and sometimes assets) are low enough to qualify for a particular program and meet other program requirements. At initial application, during benefit receipt, and at recertification periods, each income support program has unique rules about whether, how, and when income is counted. These rules have good intentions: to target limited resources to the families most in need. They were designed, however, in a time with far less instability in jobs, parental and family relationships, housing, and other aspects of family life. The current context requires greater attention to income fluctuations, particularly those that are detrimental and do not lead to economic mobility, what we call “income instability.” This brief presents background on income volatility and income support programs before making recommendations for policymakers and program administrators to promote income stability and mobility with income support programs. (Author abstract)
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