Who Receives Benefits? - An Overview Of Welfare Program Participation

percent received assistance household

With few exceptions, the demand for welfare assistance increased sharply in the 1990s. Nonetheless, one-third of the poor received no benefits in 2000. Several reasons explain why more than 33 percent of those living below the poverty line did not receive the assistance available to them. Some were ineligible because they had such assets as a car or a savings account that brought them above permitted limits. Others did not know they were eligible for benefits, while some knew they were eligible but chose not to accept benefits or thought the effort was not worth the amount of benefits they would receive.

How Many People Receive Benefits?

The U.S. Bureau of the Census reported that in 2001 about 70.3 million people, or 25 percent of the total U.S. population, lived in households that received some form of means-tested assistance—assistance based on earning below a certain amount. (See Table 6.1.) This number is considerably higher than the 53.2 million people, or 21 percent of the population, who received assistance in 1990.

In 2001 approximately 32.9 million people were living below the poverty level. There are various governmental measures of poverty, including poverty thresholds and poverty guidelines. The 2001 poverty guideline for a family unit of two was $11,610; for a family unit of four, the guideline was $17,650. Of those living in poverty, 22.2 million, or 67.5 percent, were receiving some form of means-tested aid. (See Table 6.2.)

About 17.7 million persons, 6.3 percent of the total populace, lived in households that received food stamps in 2001. (See Table 6.1.) Of the people who lived below the poverty level, 33.6 percent lived in households that received food stamps in 2001. (See Table 6.2.)

In 2001 Medicaid covered about 50.4 million people; about 17.9 percent of the population lived in households where at least one person was covered by Medicaid. (See Table 6.1.)

What Type of Households Receive Assistance?

Certain types of households were more likely than others to receive means-tested assistance. Poor families with children under eighteen years of age were most likely to receive government assistance. In 2001, 84.5 percent of all poor families with children under six years of age and 89 percent of poor families headed by a single mother with children under six years of age received assistance. In unrelated subfamilies (two or more people living in the same household who are related to each other but are not related to the householder), 75 percent of poor children aged six to seventeen received assistance. (See Table 6.2.)

Information on the age, gender, racial and ethnic background, and family status of welfare participants in 2001 is available from the Current Population Survey, a joint project of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

Gender of Welfare Recipients

In 2001 slightly more females (26.5 percent) than males (23.4 percent) lived in a household that received means-tested assistance, or welfare benefits of any kind. About 38.1 million females received program assistance during 2001, compared to 32.1 million males. (See Table 6.1.) Among those living below the poverty level, 12.9 million females (69.4 percent of females) received benefits during some part of the year, compared to 9.3 million males (65 percent of males). (See Table 6.2.)

One reason for the larger percentage of females receiving assistance is that women are more likely to live in a family without a spouse present. Another reason is that, as reported by numerous government and private

TABLE 6.1
Program participation status of household—poverty status of persons in 2001
(Numbers in thousands)

In household that received means-tested assistance In household that received means-tested assistance excl.school lunch In household that received means-tested cash assistance In household that received food stamps In household in which one or more persons were covered by Medicaid Live in public or subsidized housing
Characteristic Total Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
All races and
all income levels
Both sexes
Total 281,475 70,258 25.0 57,385 20.4 17,525 6.2 17,757 6.3 50,448 17.9 10,906 3.9
Under 18 years 72,021 26,994 37.5 20,425 28.4 5,401 7.5 7,852 10.9 18,712 26.0 4,049 5.6
18 to 24 years 27,312 7,373 27.0 6,479 23.7 1,814 6.6 1,918 7.0 5,783 21.2 1,243 4.6
25 to 34 years 38,670 9,847 25.5 7,960 20.6 1,958 5.1 2,465 6.4 7,044 18.2 1,423 3.7
35 to 44 years 44,284 9,620 21.7 7,282 16.4 2,188 4.9 1,991 4.5 6,469 14.6 1,166 2.6
45 to 54 years 39,545 6,241 15.8 5,438 13.8 2,172 5.5 1,466 3.7 4,689 11.9 796 2.0
55 to 59 years 14,667 2,255 15.4 2,102 14.3 1,007 6.9 483 3.3 1,783 12.2 378 2.6
60 to 64 years 11,208 1,879 16.8 1,803 16.1 872 7.8 410 3.7 1,513 13.5 336 3.0
65 years and over 33,769 6,048 17.9 5,897 17.5 2,113 6.3 1,172 3.5 4,454 13.2 1,516 4.5
65 to 74 years 18,123 3,194 17.6 3,085 17.0 1,147 6.3 678 3.7 2,464 13.6 678 3.7
75 years and over 15,647 2,854 18.2 2,812 18.0 966 6.2 494 3.2 1,991 12.7 837 5.4
Male
Total 137,558 32,145 23.4 26,023 18.9 7,802 5.7 7,492 5.4 22,952 16.7 4,344 3.2
Under 18 years 36,857 13,689 37.1 10,342 28.1 2,702 7.3 3,902 10.6 9,449 25.6 2,036 5.5
18 to 24 years 13,705 3,222 23.5 2,779 20.3 787 5.7 680 5.0 2,448 17.9 457 3.3
25 to 34 years 19,234 4,181 21.7 3,478 18.1 827 4.3 858 4.5 3,035 15.8 512 2.7
35 to 44 years 21,822 4,232 19.4 3,181 14.6 963 4.4 735 3.4 2,826 13.0 411 1.9
45 to 54 years 19,332 2,928 15.1 2,524 13.1 982 5.1 597 3.1 2,191 11.3 270 1.4
55 to 59 years 7,091 978 13.8 902 12.7 439 6.2 167 2.4 774 10.9 113 1.6
60 to 64 years 5,282 746 14.1 712 13.5 340 6.4 151 2.9 599 11.3 107 2.0
65 years and over 14,235 2,169 15.2 2,104 14.8 762 5.3 402 2.8 1,629 11.4 438 3.1
65 to 74 years 8,245 1,326 16.1 1,274 15.5 465 5.6 271 3.3 1,047 12.7 231 2.8
75 years and over 5,991 843 14.1 830 13.8 297 5.0 130 2.2 582 9.7 207 3.5
Female
Total 143,917 38,112 26.5 31,362 21.8 9,723 6.8 10,266 7.1 27,496 19.1 6,562 4.6
Under 18 years 35,164 13,305 37.8 10,083 28.7 2,699 7.7 3,950 11.2 9,262 26.3 2,013 5.7
18 to 24 years 13,607 4,151 30.5 3,699 27.2 1,027 7.6 1,238 9.1 3,335 24.5 786 5.8
25 to 34 years 19,436 5,667 29.2 4,482 23.1 1,131 5.8 1,607 8.3 4,009 20.6 910 4.7
35 to 44 years 22,461 5,388 24.0 4,101 18.3 1,225 5.5 1,256 5.6 3,643 16.2 755 3.4
45 to 54 years 20,213 3,313 16.4 2,914 14.4 1,191 5.9 869 4.3 2,498 12.4 526 2.6
55 to 59 years 7,575 1,277 16.9 1,200 15.8 567 7.5 316 4.2 1,009 13.3 265 3.5
60 to 64 years 5,926 1,133 19.1 1,091 18.4 532 9.0 259 4.4 914 15.4 229 3.9
65 years and over 19,534 3,878 19.9 3,793 19.4 1,351 6.9 770 3.9 2,825 14.5 1,078 5.5
65 to 74 years 9,878 1,868 18.9 1,810 18.3 682 6.9 407 4.1 1,417 14.3 448 4.5
75 years and over 9,656 2,011 20.8 1,982 20.5 669 6.9 363 3.8 1,409 14.6 630 6.5

TABLE 6.1
Program participation status of household—poverty status of persons in 2001
(Numbers in thousands)

In household that received means-tested assistance In household that received means-tested assistance excl.school lunch In household that received means-tested cash assistance In household that received food stamps In household in which one or more persons were covered by Medicaid Live in public or subsidized housing
Characteristic Total Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Household relationship
Total 281,475 70,258 25.0 57,385 20.4 17,525 6.2 17,757 6.3 50,448 17.9 10,906 3.9
65 years and over 33,769 6,048 17.9 5,897 17.5 2,113 6.3 1,172 3.5 4,454 13.2 1,516 4.5
In families 233,911 60,963 26.1 48,466 20.7 14,346 6.1 15,018 6.4 43,777 18.7 7,965 3.4
Householder 74,340 16,623 22.4 13,555 18.2 4,145 5.6 4,144 5.6 12,023 16.2 2,494 3.4
Under 65 years 62,700 14,859 23.7 11,872 18.9 3,471 5.5 3,825 6.1 10,617 16.9 2,317 3.7
65 years and over 11,641 1,765 15.2 1,684 14.5 674 5.8 319 2.7 1,407 12.1 177 1.5
Related children
Under 18 years 70,950 26,435 37.3 19,951 28.1 5,299 7.5 7,682 10.8 18,281 25.8 4,004 5.6
Under 6 years 23,014 8,979 39.0 7,655 33.3 1,867 8.1 3,040 13.2 7,133 31.0 1,587 6.9
6 to 17 years 47,936 17,456 36.4 12,296 25.7 3,432 7.2 4,642 9.7 11,147 23.3 2,417 5.0
Own children 18 years
and over 21,746 5,714 26.3 4,929 22.7 1,922 8.8 1,153 5.3 4,495 20.7 571 2.6
In married-couple families 182,212 34,911 19.2 26,655 14.6 6,463 3.5 5,549 3.0 24,269 13.3 2,248 1.2
Husbands 56,755 8,476 14.9 6,723 11.8 1,725 3.0 1,309 2.3 5,968 10.5 624 1.1
Under 65 years 46,509 7,355 15.8 5,645 12.1 1,354 2.9 1,133 2.4 5,106 11.0 484 1.0
65 years and over 10,245 1,122 11.0 1,078 10.5 371 3.6 175 1.7 862 8.4 140 1.4
Wives 56,755 8,476 14.9 6,723 11.8 1,725 3.0 1,309 2.3 5,968 10.5 624 1.1
Under 65 years 48,912 7,732 15.8 6,000 12.3 1,476 3.0 1,192 2.4 5,407 11.1 530 1.1
65 years and over 7,842 745 9.5 724 9.2 248 3.2 117 1.5 561 7.2 94 1.2
Related children
Under 18 years 51,287 13,882 27.1 9,768 19.0 1,866 3.6 2,435 4.7 9,095 17.7 846 1.7
Under 6 years 17,057 4,890 28.7 3,924 23.0 633 3.7 1,012 5.9 3,664 21.5 376 2.2
6 to 17 years 34,229 8,993 26.3 5,843 17.1 1,232 3.6 1,423 4.2 5,431 15.9 470 1.4
Own children 18 years
and over 13,958 2,728 19.5 2,268 16.2 775 5.6 345 2.5 2,126 15.2 128 0.9
In families with female house-
holder, no spouse present 39,261 21,836 55.6 18,401 46.9 6,893 17.6 8,433 21.5 16,438 41.9 5,281 13.5
Householder 13,146 6,750 51.3 5,686 43.3 2,075 15.8 2,513 19.1 5,032 38.3 1,718 13.1
Under 65 years 11,529 6,150 53.3 5,122 44.4 1,792 15.5 2,394 20.8 4,525 39.2 1,668 14.5
65 years and over 1,616 600 37.1 563 34.8 282 17.5 119 7.4 507 31.4 50 3.1
Related children
Under 18 years 16,137 10,893 67.5 8,955 55.5 3,179 19.7 4,794 29.7 8,061 50.0 2,966 18.4
Under 6 years 4,764 3,430 72.0 3,146 66.0 1,121 23.5 1,808 38.0 2,920 61.3 1,146 24.1
6 to 17 years 11,374 7,464 65.6 5,808 51.1 2,057 18.1 2,986 26.3 5,141 45.2 1,820 16.0
18 years and over 6,316 2,604 41.2 2,321 36.8 1,021 16.2 700 11.1 2,053 32.5 428 6.8

TABLE 6.1
Program participation status of household—poverty status of persons in 2001
(Numbers in thousands)

In household that received means-tested assistance In household that received means-tested assistance excl.school lunch In household that received means-tested cash assistance In household that received food stamps In household in which one or more persons were covered by Medicaid Live in public or subsidized housing
Characteristic Total Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
In families with male householder
no spouse present 12,438 4,216 33.9 3,410 27.4 991 8.0 1,036 8.3 3,070 24.7 436 3.5
Householder 4,440 1,397 31.5 1,147 25.8 346 7.8 322 7.3 1,022 23.0 152 3.4
Under 65 years 4,009 1,250 31.2 1,003 25.0 285 7.1 290 7.2 889 22.2 150 3.7
65 years and over 431 147 34.1 144 33.3 61 14.1 32 7.4 134 31.0 2 0.5
Related children
Under 18 years 3,526 1,659 47.1 1,229 34.8 255 7.2 453 12.8 1,125 31.9 192 5.5
Under 6 years 1,193 660 55.3 585 49.0 113 9.4 219 18.4 550 46.1 66 5.5
6 to 17 years 2,333 1,000 42.8 644 27.6 142 6.1 233 10.0 575 24.7 127 5.4
18 years and over 1,472 382 25.9 340 23.1 127 8.6 108 7.4 316 21.5 16 1.1
In unrelated subfamilies 1,171 640 54.6 538 45.9 116 9.9 193 16.4 508 43.4 29 2.4
Under 18 years 656 377 57.5 317 48.3 69 10.5 122 18.5 299 45.6 16 2.4
Under 6 years 156 85 54.5 80 51.3 15 9.6 25 15.7 77 49.2 7 4.7
6 to 17 years 500 292 58.5 236 47.3 54 10.8 97 19.4 222 44.5 9 1.7
18 years and over 515 263 51.0 221 42.9 47 9.1 71 13.8 209 40.5 13 2.5
Unrelated individuals 46,392 8,654 18.7 8,381 18.1 3,063 6.6 2,546 5.5 6,163 13.3 2,912 6.3
Male 22,176 3,822 17.2 3,659 16.5 1,381 6.2 1,093 4.9 2,768 12.5 1,095 4.9
Under 65 years 19,212 3,124 16.3 2,962 15.4 1,128 5.9 926 4.8 2,302 12.0 809 4.2
Living alone 9,481 987 10.4 987 10.4 414 4.4 328 3.5 592 6.2 494 5.2
65 years and over 2,964 698 23.6 697 23.5 252 8.5 167 5.6 466 15.7 286 9.7
Living alone 2,569 575 22.4 575 22.4 189 7.3 132 5.1 360 14.0 270 10.5
Female 24,216 4,832 20.0 4,722 19.5 1,683 6.9 1,453 6.0 3,396 14.0 1,817 7.5
Under 65 years 15,930 2,898