NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Nearly Half of U.S. Households Receive Government Benefits

January 19, 2012

The pool of Americans relying on government benefits rose to record highs last year as an increasing share of families tapped aid in a weak economy, says the Wall Street Journal.

Expanding government programs combined with the worst downturn since the Great Depression have led to an explosion in the share of Americans relying on outside help.

  • Some 48.6 percent of the population lived in a household receiving some type of government benefit in the second quarter of 2010, up a notch from 48.5 percent in the first quarter, according to Census data.
  • To combat prolonged economic weakness, Congress extended unemployment benefits to a record 99 weeks (up from the normal 26-weeks offered in most states).
  • The food stamp program was tweaked so it was more generous.
  • Americans flocked to Social Security disability, a last bastion of support for some of the long-term unemployed.

The largest chunk of benefits flowing to families came from means-tested programs.

  • In the second quarter, 34.4 percent lived in a household benefiting from food stamps, subsidized housing or Medicaid, among others.
  • That number is up from 32.8 percent a year ago (when a total of 46.8 percent of the population lived in a home receiving benefits).
  • The biggest increases came from an uptick in those turning to food stamps and Medicaid.
  • Nearly 15 percent of Americans lived in a household receiving food stamps in mid-2010; almost 26 percent had access to Medicaid.

Only a small share of the population accessed cash welfare benefits as the 1990s overhaul made it more onerous in many cases to receive and maintain those payments.  Some 1.9 percent of the population lived in a household that received welfare in the second quarter of 2010.

Source: Sara Murray, "Nearly Half of U.S. Lives in Household Receiving Government Benefits," Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2012.

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