The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences
January 7, 2020 at 5 PM EST
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RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences

Low-Income Families in the 21st Century:
Effective Public Policy Responses to Complexity and Change

Edited by

Marcy Carlson
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Christopher Wimer
Columbia University

Ron Haskins
Brookings Institution

The 21st century has seen major changes in both the nature of work and the nature of families in the United States, some building on trends over the past half century and some representing breaks from the past. Many observers hypothesize that U.S public policies have failed to keep up with these changes—or have done so unevenly across localities, with particular consequences for low-income individuals and families. We seek paper proposals that provide research evidence on the changes in work and families, and the most promising policy options to meet contemporary needs. As such, this volume of RSF will inform efforts to develop, reform, and implement public policies and programs that effectively support low-income workers and their families.

Low-income workers today face a very different labor market than they did fifty years ago. The job opportunities for those with low skills have diminished amidst a rising premium for high skills, and real wages have stagnated and labor force participation has declined for those with low education. Stable jobs with decent pay and good benefits are more scarce. Work schedules are more variable, and work is more likely to occur during nonstandard hours, and unstable work schedules are linked with adverse health outcomes. There are less clear and structured—and more divergent—career progression paths predicting economic mobility. Unions, which have historically bolstered workers’ wages and benefits, cover significantly fewer workers today than in the past. So-called ‘gig work’ is increasingly an income source for many, which may create desired flexibility for high-skilled workers but may leave low-skilled workers without stable and well-remunerated work. In short, today’s low-income jobs may be more likely to have various “bad” characteristics than low-wage jobs of the past. Perhaps as a result, traditional career ladders into the middle-class have become less common.

In this volume, we will consider aspects of work and family life for those in poverty or near poverty—and their intersection, highlighting the extent to which public policy is effectively serving low-income families and ways that it might be improved. The co-editors envision that papers will address a range of topics related to contemporary work arrangements (including paid and unpaid care work), family configurations, and public policy supports. Papers may focus on any particular aspect of work, of family, or both—but should explicitly address policy implications and needs, providing evidence about exemplar strategies and programs. We strongly encourage papers that directly focus on ways that policies are—or are not—meeting the needs of low-income workers and families. We envision papers from many disciplinary perspectives and methodological approaches, and we expect that particular subgroups of interest (e.g., by race/ethnicity, immigration status) will be relevant.

Please click here for a full description of the topics covered in this call for articles.

Anticipated Timeline

Prospective contributors should submit a CV and an abstract (up to two pages in length, single or double spaced) of their study along with up to two pages of supporting material (e.g., tables, figures, pictures, etc.) no later than 5 PM EST on January 7, 2020 to:

NOTE that if you wish to submit an abstract and do not yet have an account with us, it can take up to 48 hours to get credentials, so please start your application at least two days before the deadline. All submissions must be original work that has not been previously published in part or in full. Only abstracts submitted to will be considered. Each paper will receive a $1,000 honorarium when the issue is published. All questions regarding this issue should be directed to Suzanne Nichols, Director of Publications, at and not to the email addresses of the editors of the issue.

A conference will take place at the Russell Sage Foundation in New York City on June 23, 2020. The selected contributors will gather for a one-day workshop to present draft papers (due a month prior to the conference on 5/28/20 ) and receive feedback from the other contributors and editors. Travel costs, food, and lodging for one author per paper will be covered by the foundation. Papers will be circulated before the conference. After the conference, the authors will submit their revised drafts by 9/24/20. The papers will then be sent out to three additional scholars for formal peer review. Having received feedback from reviewers and the RSF board, authors will revise their papers by 12/4/20. The full and final issue will be published in the fall of 2021. Papers will be published open access on the RSF website as well as in several digital repositories, including JSTOR and UPCC/Muse.

Please click here for a full description of the topics covered in this call for articles.