Trends in the Well-Being of America's Children and Youth, 1997. ES 2.3 Lifetime welfare dependence

04/01/1997

Chronic welfare receipt is a major concern of policy makers of all political persuasions for several reasons. First, chronic welfare receipt imposes large costs on taxpayers. Second, there is some evidence suggesting that long-term welfare receipt may have a more negative impact on adult recipients and their children than short-term receipt that helps a family weather a crisis.14

Living in a family receiving welfare at some point during childhood is a common experience, affecting 40 percent of all children, 33 percent of non-black children, and 81 percent of black children who turned age 18 in 1991-93 (see Figure ES 2.3.A). Long-term welfare receipt is considerably less common: 10 percent of all children lived in families receiving welfare for 11 or more years of their childhood.

Differences by Race. For black children, however, long-term welfare receipt is considerably more common than for non-black children. Thirty-eight (38) percent of all black children born in the years 1973-1975 spent 11 or more years of their childhood living in families receiving at least some welfare. This contrasts with the experience of non-black children, of whom only 6 percent spent 11 or more years of their childhood in families receiving welfare.

Changes Over Time. Table ES 2.3.A presents data for three cohorts of children turning age 18 in 1985-87, 1988-90, and 1991-93. The data show two contrasting trends in the lifetime experience of welfare receipt among children:

  • On the one hand, there appears to be a small increase in the proportion of children whose families never received welfare, from 57 percent to 61 percent across the three age cohorts. This trend is also evident for black children, where the proportion whose families never received welfare increased from 12 percent to 19 percent.
  • On the other hand, there is also a small increase in the percentage of children who lived in families receiving welfare for at least 11 years, from eight percent in the cohort turning age 18 in 1985-87 to 10 percent for the cohort turning age 18 in 1991-93.

These two trends indicate some polarization of the life experience of children. A slightly greater proportion is growing up in families who are chronically dependent on welfare, even while an increasing proportion of children live in families that manage to avoid welfare altogether.

Welfare Benefits As a Portion of Total Family Income. Of the 10 percent of children in families that received welfare for at least 11 years, fewer than half lived in families in which welfare benefits were at least half of total family income for at least 11 years. Similarly, although 38 percent of black children lived in families receiving welfare for at least 11 years, only 14 percent lived in families in which welfare benefits were at least half of total family income for at least 11 years (see Table ES 2.3.A, right panel). Thus, welfare is a supplement to family income rather than the primary source of income in more than half of the families receiving welfare over the long run.

AFDC Receipt. As shown in Figure ES 2.3.B, when only AFDC benefits are taken into account, the pattern is very similar to the pattern for all welfare benefits. While living in a family receiving AFDC benefits for at least one year is fairly common (19 percent of non-black children and 67 percent of black children), chronic receipt is not. Only 4 percent of non-black children lived in families receiving AFDC benefits for at least 11 years, and only 20 percent of black children lived in such families. Moreover, as shown in Table ES 2.3.B, there is no evidence of increased polarization of children with respect to AFDC receipt.
 

Figure ES 2.3.A 
Percentage of Children Receiving Welfare by Number of Years on Welfare Through Age 17: for Those Who Turned Age 18 in 19911993 
 

FIGES2_3A.GIF
Note: Welfare includes AFDC, Food Stamps, and SSI or "other welfare, which includes local General Assistance." 

Source: Estimates supplied by Greg J. Duncan, Northwestern University, based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). 

 

Figure ES 2.3.B 
Percentage of Children Receiving AFDC by Number of Years on AFDC Through Age 17: for Those Who Turned Age 18 in 19911993 
 

FIGES2_3B.GIF
Source: Estimates supplied by Greg J. Duncan, Northwestern University, based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID). 

 

Table ES 2.3.A 
Percentage of Children Receiving Welfare by Number of Years on Welfare  During Childhood, by Year Turned 18 

 
     
NUMBER OF YEARS FAMILY 
RECEIVED ANY WELFARE 
BENEFIT 
NUMBER OF YEARS IN WHICH 
WELFARE BENEFITS WERE 
AT LEAST HALF OF TOTAL 
FAMILY INCOME 
 

 

 

______________________________ 
_______________________________ 
 
One or 
Six or 
11 or 
 
One or 
Six or 
11 or 
 
More 
More 
More 
 
More 
More 
More 
Never 
Years 
Years 
Years 
Never 
Years 
Years 
Years 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
______ 
 
Turned age 18 in 1985-1987
(1967-69 birth cohort)
  All children
57 
43 
16 
Black
12 
88 
66 
35 
Non-black
64 
36 
 
Turned age 18 in 1988-1990
(1970-72 birth cohort)
  All children
58 
43 
21 
12 
Black
19 
81 
67 
40 
Non-black
65 
35 
13 
 
Turned age 18 in 1991-1993
(1973-75 birth cohort)
  All children
61 
40 
17 
10 
83 
17 
Black
19 
81 
52 
38 
50 
50 
30 
14 
Non-black
67 
33 
12 
88 
12 
 
Note: Welfare includes AFDC, Food Stamps and SSI or "other welfare, which includes local General Assistance."
Source: Estimates supplied by Greg J. Duncan, Northwestern University, based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID).

 

Table ES 2.3.B 
Percentage of Children Receiving AFDC by Number of Years on AFDC During Childhood, by Year Turned 18 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
Number of years family 
received any AFDC 
benefit 
Number of years in which 
AFDC benefits were 
at least half of 
total family income 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
One or 
Six or 
11 or 
 
One or 
Six or 
11 or 
 
 
 
More 
More 
More 
 
More 
More 
More 
 
 
Never 
Years 
Years 
Years 
Never 
Years 
Years 
Years 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Turned age 18 in 1985-1987 
(1967-69 birth cohort)
 
All children
77 
23 
10 
87 
13 
 
Black
29 
71 
45 
19 
44 
56 
15 
 
Non-black
85 
15 
94 
 
Turned age 18 in 1988 -1990 
(1970-72 birth cohort)
 
All children
71 
28 
15 
84 
17 
 
Black
28 
73 
45 
23 
49 
51 
16 
 
Non-black
80 
20 
91 
10 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Turned age 18 in 1991 -1993 
(1973-75 birth cohort)
 
All children
76 
25 
11 
85 
15 
 
Black
34 
67 
39 
20 
54 
47 
23 
10 
 
Non-black
81 
19 
89 
11 
                   
Source: Estimates supplied by Greg J. Duncan, Northwestern University based on data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID).

 

13 For this indicator, "welfare" has been defined to include Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and "other welfare," which includes local General Assistance.

14 Duncan, G., and Brooks-Gunn, J. 1996. "Income Effects Across the Life Span: Integration and Interpretation," in Consequences of Growing Up Poor (G. Duncan and J. Brooks-Gunn, eds.).
 

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