HHS Report: Percentage of Americans on Welfare Hits Recorded High

Terence P. Jeffrey | July 8, 2014 | 12:19pm EDT
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(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

(CNSNews.com) - According to the 2014 version of a report that the Department of Health and Human Services is required by law to issue annually, the percentage of Americans on welfare in 2011 was the highest yet calculated. The data for 2011 is the most recent in the report.

HHS has calculated the percentage of all persons in the United States who live in families that receive “welfare” going back to fiscal 1993. It has not calculated a percentage for years prior to that.

As defined in the report ("Welfare Indicators and Risk Factors"), a welfare recipient is any person living in a family where someone received benefits from any of just three programs—Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (formerly Aid to Families With Dependent Children), Supplemental Security Income, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or food stamps).

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By this measure, according to the report, 23.1 percent of Americans were recipients of welfare in 2011. Since 1993, the earliest year covered by the report, that is the highest percentage of Americans reported to be receiving welfare.

A startling 38 percent of all children 5 and under in the United States were welfare recipients in 2011, according to the report.

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HHS’s count of “welfare” recipients differs somewhat from data published by the Census Bureau on the number of Americans living in households in which someone received benefits from one or more “means-tested” government programs. The Census Bureau data, previously reported by CNSNews.com, includes beneficiaries of public housing programs, Medicaid, "other cash assistance" programs, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program as well as beneficiaries of TANF, SSI and SNAP.

As of the fourth quarter of 2011 there were 108,592,000 people living in households in the United States that received benefits from one or more “means-tested” government programs, according to the Census Bureau’s estimate. Those 108,592,000 “means-tested” government benefit recipients, according to the bureau, equaled 35.4 percent of 306,804,000 people in the United States at that time.

When recipients of non-means-tested government programs (such as Social Security, Medicare, unemployment, and veterans benefits) were added to those receiving benefits from means-tested programs, the total number receiving benefits in the fourth quarter of 2011 was 151,014,000, according to the Census Bureau. That equaled 49.2 percent of the total population.

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The percentage of people fitting HHS’s more narrowly defined “welfare” measure declined from 1993 to 2000, but then began rising again.

“In 2011, 23.1 percent of the total population received or lived with a family member who received a benefit of any amount from TANF, SNAP, or SSI at some point during the year,” said the HHS report. “While falling steadily between 1993-2000, this annual recipiency rate began to increase after 2000, and increased more rapidly during and in the immediate aftermath of the ‘Great Recession.’

“The 2011 rate is slightly higher than the 2010 rate, reflecting increased participation in the SNAP and SSI programs,” said the report.

In the period since 1993, the percentage of people living in families receiving “welfare” (TANF, SSI and/or SNAP) hit its lowest level in 2000, when it was 12.5 percent, according to the report. Between then and 2011, it climbed to its highest-yet-recorded rate of 23.1 percent.

Children are more likely than adults to be on welfare, according to the report. In fiscal 2011, recipients included 38.0 percent of children 5 and under, 34.8 percent of children 6 to 10, and 32.0 percent of children 11 to 15.

Meanwhile, 23.3 percent of women ages 16 to 64 received welfare in 2011, while that same year 19.2 percent of men ages 16 to 64 received welfare.

The percentage of children on welfare has increased dramatically in recent years.

In fiscal 2000, only 19.8 percent of American children 5 or under were on welfare, according to the report. Between then and 2011, the percentage of American children 5 and under who were on welfare climbed about 92 percent to 38.0 percent. (The percentage of children 5 and under calculated to be receiving welfare actually peaked in 2010 at 38.1 percent, then dropped 1 tenth of a percent from 2010 to 2011.)

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The HHS report identifies the birth of children to unmarried mothers as a “risk factor” contributing to the welfare rolls. Only 14.6 percent of married families were on welfare, while 55.0 percent of female-headed families were.

“Data on nonmarital births is provided since the lower family incomes of single parent families affects the need for and use of welfare programs,” says the report. “Historically a high percentage of AFDC/TANF recipients first became parents outside of marriage. In 1940, 3.8 percent of births were to unmarried women. Beginning in 1960, this percentage began to increase, reaching 32.6 percent by 1992. It remained steady for a few years, before rising to 40.7 percent in 2011.”

It was also 40.7 percent in 2012, according to the CDC. That made 2012 the fifth year in a row in which 40 percent or more of American babies were born to unmarried mothers.

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