Nearly half of all United States residents live in a household in which at least one member receives some form of government assistance.
According to recently released data by the Census Bureau, nearly 45 percent of U.S. residents live in a home where one or more individuals receives benefits such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The report indicates that 28.4 million households, or 24 percent of the U.S. total, received means-tested benefits — either cash or noncash — in an average month during the third quarter of 2008, the most recent period for which data is available. Medicaid (21.1 million), free or reduced-price school meals (11.5 million) and food stamps (9.3 million) were the most widely received benefits based on income and assets.
Social Security and Medicare, which are not based on income or assets, affected even more households with 33.6 million receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits and 30.8 million receiving benefits from Medicare.
From May to November of 2008, participation rates in means-tested government programs increased from 23.2 percent to 24.7 percent, with the percentage receiving food stamps increasing from 7.6 percent to 8.8 percent and the share of those receiving Medicaid rising from 17.5 percent to 18.5 percent.
The information comes from the third quarter 2008 report of the “Economic Characteristics of Households in the United States” which examines the roles of government-sponsored benefit programs and the labor market during the recession.
Other highlights from the report include:
• Among the 67 percent of the working-age population engaging in some labor force activity, median monthly household cash income was $5,500; for those without labor force activity, such as retired people, this income was $2,979.
• On average, about 143 million of the 157 million people in the labor force had a job the entire month. Such individuals had an average median monthly household cash income of $5,751. For those with a job only part of the month, it was $4,001, while it was $2,510 for those without a job the entire month who were looking for work or who were laid off.
• Noncash means-tested benefits went to 28.2 million households in an average month. The majority of these households (54 percent) participated in two or more programs. A prevalent form of multiple recipiency (at least 4.6 million households) was the combination of food stamps and Medicaid coverage.
• Receiving means-tested government benefits was significantly more common among households with unemployed members or with no labor force participants than among those with job-holders only.
• On average, about 1.8 million people who had jobs the entire month spent a week or more laid off from them. Their median monthly household cash income was $3,917, considerably less than the $5,751 for people with jobs the entire month.
• When one or more members in the household had a job and no member was unemployed, the average monthly household income was $6,490. When at least one household member was unemployed, mean household income dropped to $4,041. For households without members in the labor force, average income was $2,255.