Use of welfare programs, like poverty, is a continuum, with variations in degree and duration. Families may be more or less reliant if larger or smaller shares of their total resources are derived from welfare programs. The amount of time over which families receive benefits from welfare programs might also be considered in assessing their degree of dependence.
Although recognizing the difficulties inherent in defining and measuring dependence, a bipartisan Advisory Board on Welfare Indicators proposed that: a family is defined as dependent on welfare if more than 50 percent of its total income in a one-year period comes from TANF (which replaced AFDC), SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) and/or SSI, and this welfare income is not associated with work activities.
Given data limitations, we are not able to identify which program benefits may be associated with recipient work activities. Thus, the definition of welfare dependence used in this report may characterize more individuals as welfare dependent than the Board had intended. We follow the Board’s proposal as closely as possible by adopting the following definition of possible welfare dependence among individuals in families5 for use in this report: welfare dependence is the proportion of all individuals in families that receive more than half of their total family income in one year from TANF, SNAP and/or SSI.
The report provides a number of key indicators of welfare dependence, recipiency, and labor force attachment. Also included is a broader set of risk factors associated with welfare receipt and potential dependence organized into three categories: 1) economic security measures, 2) measures related to employment and barriers to employment, and 3) measures of nonmarital childbearing. The key economic security risk factors include and supplement measures of poverty and well-being and are useful to ensure that predictors of receipt are not assessed in isolation. Measures related to employment and barriers to employment also may be useful since families must generally receive an adequate income from employment in order to avoid welfare programs without severe deprivation. Trends in nonmarital births are provided since the lower family incomes of single-parent families affects the need for and use of welfare programs. Historically a large percentage of AFDC/TANF recipients first became parents outside of marriage.
5Appendix D provides more information on the use of individuals, rather than families or households, as the unit of analysis for most of the statistics in this report.