The three essays that comprise this dissertation discuss three different sets of institutions affecting the lives of low-income populations. I start with a brief overview placing these essays into a larger body of research; then I present a fuller description of each individual essay. One of the difficulties in studying low-income groups is that their lives are touched by so many institutions. Moreover, these institutions often affect low-income groups differently than middle- or high-income groups. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the labor market. Increasing wage inequality since the early 1970s has reduced the return to work for the less skilled relative to those with more skill, in particular for males with less education. Over this same time period, males with less education also have experienced larger declines in employment. Less educated females, on the other hand, have not experienced analogous declines in wages and labor force participation, but both their wages and especially their labor force participation have increased much less rapidly than highly educated females.