Welfare Demographics In The U S

Welfare helps out millions of families across the country.

“Welfare” is the former term for the government assistance program designed to help those in economic need. One division that has come out of this program is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. This entity gives money to those who meet specific income and household guidelines. These standards are determined by each state to tailor a specific plan for their region. Although it’s impossible to attribute certain characteristics to someone who participates in this program, there are certain demographics that have emerged over the years. All information is current as of May 2008.


Racial characteristics are not a reason to take part in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, but there are statistical data that correlate race and those on assistance. In 1997, there were a total of more than 4 million families receiving aid; of those, 34.5 percent are white, 37.3 percent black, 22.5 percent Hispanic, 3.3 percent Asian and 1.3 percent Native American. California comprised the largest number of families with 832,000, which was 20 percent of all families in the program nationally.


The expenses of caring for a growing child can be expensive. Day care facilities are often so expensive that parents who make near minimum wage have little left over after paying for child care so that they can work. This can put a family in financial distress, even with members working to contribute to the financial bottom line. Families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program averaged two children per household. Nearly 70 percent of families had only a single head of household; about 7 percent had two or more adults. Around 42 percent of children enrolled in the program were under the age of 6.


The most obvious indicator of economic need is in the amount of earned income a household earns. In the U.S., in 1997, the average monthly income for a one-person household was $247; for two people, $394; for three people, $524; for four people, $627; and for five or more people, $845. It’s important to note that in 1997, only 13 percent of families had an earned income; roughly 15 percent had unearned income, such as child support.

Payment Levels

The amount of monthly benefits that a family receives depends on how much income the house is bringing in, the number of people in the home, pregnancy status of any family members, and medical bills. Each state sets up its own criteria to asses to whom the assistance goes. Pressures on a state budget can deplete the amount of money available for these types of programs. The average payment for families in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was $362 in 1997. Maximums are different based upon geographic location.

Time on Assistance

The amount of time that a person remains on aid from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families varies depending on each family’s individual circumstances; the reported median length of time on assistance was two years. One in four families have been on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program assistance for more than five years. It’s the goal of the program to help needy families but also to encourage seeking regular employment to get off of government assistance. An estimated 40 percent of cases are repeats, meaning they’ve been involved with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program before their most recent open case.