The Wall Street Journal
January 17, 2012
Nearly half of U.S lives in household receiving government benefits
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.
Some 48.6% 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% in the first quarter, according to Census data.
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. 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. (See a timeline on the history of government benefits programs here.)
Experts predict recipient rolls will decline as the economy grows healthier, but the rising federal deficit has brought government spending, and particularly benefits programs, under closer scrutiny. House Republicans, for example, have proposed block-granting Medicaid (the federal-state health care program for the poor) in order to cut costs. The shift would put more of the responsibility on the states for both designing and paying for their health care programs.
The largest chunk of benefits flowing to families came from means-tested programs. In the second quarter, 34.4% lived in a household benefiting from food stamps, subsidized housing or Medicaid, among others.
That number is up from 32.8% a year ago (when a total of 46.8% 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% of Americans lived in a household receiving food stamps in mid-2010; Almost 26% 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% of the population lived in a household that received welfare in the second quarter of 2010.