Millions of Americans face the financial hardships of losing a job, not being able to work due to a disability or supporting a family on a small salary each year. The struggle to put food on the table, pay bills and support a family can be incredibly harsh which is why the United States has a series of welfare programs to help those in need.
Federal welfare programs first started in 1935 during the great depression. With widespread poverty, starvation and unemployment, a series of programs were created to help Americans place food on the table and help those unable to support themselves and their families.
Today, the means-tested welfare system consists of 79 government programs that offer cash, food, social services, education, training and housing for low-income Americans. As welfare programs are both funded through local, state and federal taxes, programs are often a topic of political debate.
With some misconception surrounding the Americans receiving welfare and effectiveness of the program, we have provided 45 important welfare statistics important for 2018. Explore the costs, effects and various demographic statistics in our study of the welfare programs in America.
Cost of Welfare Programs
The total cost of poverty assistance programs in America can add up to a shocking $1 trillion a year when combining both federal and state level program budgets. Because of the large total price tag on helping the poor, welfare programs are often an area of policy and budgetary debate.
- In 2018 a total of $445 billion is projected to be spent on welfare programs in America. [Source: U.S. Government Publishing Office]
- 5.6 percent of the total government spending in 2018 in America went towards welfare programs. [Source: U.S. Government Publishing Office]
- Welfare spending accounted for two percent of Americans total gross domestic product in 2017. [Source: U.S. Government Publishing Office]
- Local governments spend an estimated $284 billion on poverty reduction programs every year. [Source: CATO Institute]
- From 1965 to 2011 the total percentage of GDP spent on welfare programs has quadrupled from .83 percent to 4.4 percent of the total. [Source: CATO Institute]
- On average the monthly payment benefit for American welfare recipients is $404. [Source: The United States Census Bureau]
- The average SNAP recipient in 2017 receives $126 a month in assistance which is about $1.40 per meal. [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
2018 Federal Welfare Budget
|Program||Estimated 2018 Budget|
|Family and children assistance||$268 billion|
|Workers compensation||$2.8 billion|
|Housing assistance||$47.9 billion|
- In 2016 the poverty threshold for a couple with two children was a shared income of $24,339 a year. [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
- Mississippi has the highest number of people living in poverty in 2017 with 19.8 percent of residents. [Source: United States Census Bureau]
- 44.4 percent of Puerto Rico residents lived in poverty during 2017. [Source: United States Census Bureau]
- In 2017 12.3 percent of Americans lived in poverty, down from 12.7 percent in 2016. [Source: United States Census Bureau]
- One in three African American, Hispanic and Native-American children live below the poverty line. [Source: NCCP]
- One in 10 white children lives below the poverty line. [Source: NCCP]
States with the highest poverty Rates
[Source: United States Census Bureau]
States with the highest population living in poverty
[Source: United States Census Bureau]
Welfare Program Results
Following the welfare reform act of 1996, government spending on welfare programs decreased as additional requirements and restrictions were put into action. Despite having less budget to pull from and more restrictions, the welfare programs in America have successfully lowered poverty rates over the past decade. Some issues with the current welfare program are its performance during years of economic downturn and recession.
- Government welfare programs are cited for the decline of the poverty rate from 25 percent in 1967 to 14 percent in 2016. [Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
- Only 23 percent of families living in poverty receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash assistance in the United States. [Source: CPPB]
- During the great recession from 2007 to 2009, despite doubled unemployment rates, the number of families receiving assistance grew by only 13 percent. [Source: Urban Institute]
- The number of children living in poverty in the United States decreased from 44.9 percent in 2010 to 41.2 percent in 2016. [Source: NCCP]
Average Spending of Welfare Recipients
Compared to the average American household, welfare recipients spend far less money on all food consumption including dining out in a year. As families receiving welfare assistance on average have half the total spending in one year than families not receiving welfare there are some large differences in budgeting. Families receiving welfare spend on average 154 percent less on entertainment and 123 percent less on healthcare costs.
[Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]
- American families not receiving welfare assistance spend nearly 4 times more money on entertainment than families receiving welfare assistance. [Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]
- Despite being the same size, families receiving welfare assistance spend half the amount of families not receiving welfare. [Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]
Welfare Fraud Statistics
Welfare fraud is the act of improperly stating or withholding information in order to receive higher payments. Most welfare programs’ eligibility is handled on a local level and detecting fraud is also the responsibility of the state. The United States Government Accountability Office estimates fraudulent or improperly filed charges account for 1 out of 10 payments.
- More women (22 percent) participated in a food assistance program than men (12 percent) at some point in their lives. [Source: Pew Research Center]
- 39 percent of children under the age of 18 participated in some form of government assistance program in 2012. [Source: United States Census Bureau]
- On average 50 percent of female lead households participated in a form of government assistance programs. [Source: United States Census Bureau]
- On average 27 percent of Americans enrolled in a welfare program had completed less than high school, 33 percent had a high school diploma, 31 percent had some college or an associate’s degree and 9 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher. [Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]
Welfare statistics by race
- 43 percent of Medicaid recipients were white, 18 percent were African American and 30 percent were Hispanic in 2016. [Source: KFF]
- In 2016 36.2 percent of SNAP program beneficiaries were white, 25.6 percent were African American, 17.2 percent were Hispanic, 3.3 percent were Asian. [Source: USDA]
- Of TANF recipients in 2016, 27.9 percent of were white, 19.1 percent were African American 36.9 percent were Hispanic. [Source: Department of Health and Human Services]
- 41.6 percent of the African American population and 36. 4 percent of the Hispanic population participated in at least one government assistance program in a given month. [Source: United States Census Bureau]
Welfare in the Workforce
Although welfare programs are commonly argued to support the lazy, data does not show this to be true. In the current state, welfare programs predominantly help Americans who receive low wages. The U.C. Berkeley Labor Center discovered that welfare program participation is higher for Americans receiving minimum wages.
- On average 39 percent of women receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children benefits were also employed [Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics]
- $152.8 billion is spent each year in the United States on welfare programs to support working families with low wages. [Source: U.C. Berkeley Labor Center]
- 52 percent of fast food workers with at least one family member rely on at least one poverty assistance program. [Source: U.C. Berkeley Labor Center]
- 6.7 percent of full-time workers participated in one or more means tested assistance program. [Source: United States Census Bureau]
Although a $1 trillion a year budget may seem large at first glance, the current welfare program consisting of 79 separate programs supporting 21 percent of Americans puts the large problem of poverty into perspective. Without any government safety nets, those living in poverty would not have the proper help to survive or tools to get back on their feet. With a rise in credit card debt across America it is still important to find a solution to pull the citizens living paycheck to paycheck out of poverty.