Straight Talk On Welfare Statistics

Written By
G. Dautovic
October 11,2023

Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. For Americans living in poverty it’s about constant hardship and tribulations. Today, the number of people struggling to get by in the US is rising, and many are increasingly reliant on welfare programs.

These programs are funded by the federal government and offer subsidies to low-income individuals and families. There are four major welfare programs, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs or "food stamps", Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and housing assistance.

Welfare statistics show that the initiative aids all people without regard for their age, creed or color. The following statistics on welfare recipients, states and programs paint a clearer picture of how the scheme works.

Key Welfare Stats for 2024 - Editor’s Choice

  • There are over 67 million Americans that receive welfare during an average month
  • SNAP is the biggest welfare program in the US
  • Children, the disabled and elderly constitute the majority of public benefit recipients
  • More women than men are dependent on food stamps

An estimated of 67 million Americans receive social security benefits each month in 2023.

(Social Security Administration)

That number is equivalent to around 20.2% of the population in the US and includes individuals who received assistance from one of the safety net programs. The biggest percentage of people on welfare are retired workers, with more than 49.4 million recieving welfare each month.

24 million children use welfare every month.

(Urban Institute)

Children make up the biggest percentage of welfare beneficiaries. An examination of the demographics of welfare recipients reveals that those under the age of 18 account for 41% of all welfare users. Meanwhile, people aged between 18 and 64 account for 50% of the recipients. Seniors (65 and older) account for just 12% of the population on welfare.

At least 13 million people live in poverty and don’t receive any benefits from welfare programs.

(Urban Institute)

An estimated 46 million Americans live below the poverty line. But millions aren’t covered by any of the welfare programs. Records show that 72% of people living in poverty received help from at least one welfare program. Among those living in deep poverty - an income that falls 50% below the poverty threshold - 70% received assistance, while the remaining 5.5 million people did not.

Among the population that receives welfare, 43% are white.

(Urban Institute)

The biggest chunk of welfare recipients are non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics make up 28% of all welfare recipients followed by non-Hispanic blacks at 23%. Meanwhile, other ethnicities like Asian-Americans and Native Americans account for 8% of all recipients.

Recent data shows that the government allocated 5.6% of the budget for welfare.

(National Priorities Project)

Contrary to popular belief, the US budget isn’t being sucked dry by welfare expenses. Furthermore, the expenditure declined throughout the last few years. In 2015, welfare accounted for 10% of the federal budget. By the end of 2018 that percentage nearly halved.

California, New York and Texas have the highest total public welfare expenditures.

(Yahoo Finance)

Welfare statistics by state show that there is a direct correlation between the cost of living and welfare expenditures. At the very top are California with $98.5 billion and New York with $65.6 billion. Texas and Pennsylvania spend significantly less with $36.9 and $30.3 billion respectively.

Wyoming is the only state that spends less than $1 billion on welfare.

(Yahoo Finance)

Wyoming spends $834 million on welfare, which plants it firmly at the bottom of the list of welfare recipients. States that spend under $2 billion on welfare are South Dakota ($1.1 billion) and North Dakota ($1.6 billion) as well as Montana and Vermont that spend $1.8 billion each.

New York and Alaska have the highest welfare expenditure per capita.

(Yahoo Finance)

Although some states have low public welfare expenditures, the amount they spend on welfare per capita is far higher. Welfare statistics show that Alaska has the 6th lowest public welfare expenditures but the second highest per capita expenses. This is the state with the smallest population, and the budget is split among fewer recipients, each costing $3,020.

Experts anticipate the welfare budget to remain the same throughout the next five years.

(US Government Spending)

Projections for the federal budget show that there won’t be any changes to the amount of money the US spends on welfare. According to analysts, the budget might see only slight oscillation in the years leading up to 2024, ensuring that it won’t be the biggest expenditure for the country.

There are now 3 million fewer food stamp users than in 2018.

(US Department of Agriculture, USAFacts)

Americans are becoming less dependent on the SNAP. In 2019, there were 33.6 million people using food stamps, which is a decrease of over 10 million in the past three years. Financial resources allocated for this program are also declining since 2013, and in 2018 it received $60.7 billion. However, SNAP remains the most important program in the US for fighting hunger.

On average, a SNAP recipient receives $127 a month.

(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

Depending on the size of the household and how close its members are to the poverty line, the average monthly benefit is between $131 and $506. The maximum monthly benefit that a family of five can receive through this program is $762. As for the average SNAP benefit in fiscal 2018, it converts to $4.17 a day or $1.39 per meal.

More than 3.5 million Californians are food stamp recipients.

(US Department of Agriculture)

Recent reports on food stamp statistics show that the highest number of beneficiaries of SNAP live in California (3.63 million), Texas (3.29 million), Florida (2.77 million) and New York (2.64 million). The US Virgin Islands, an American territory in the Caribbean, has the lowest number of citizens receiving food stamps.

Food stamp fraud jumped to nearly $600 million.

(US Department of Agriculture)

The period between 2012 and 2016 witnessed a significant spike in food stamp fraud, which grew by 61%. The cost of these fraudulent practices rose from $367.1 million to $592.7 million.

Nearly 40% of all food stamp recipients are white.

(US Department of Agriculture)

The majority of SNAP recipients, 38.6% to be precise, are Caucasian. African Americans are the second biggest group, accounting for 24.8% of the recipients, followed by Hispanics who make up 11.5%. Asian Americans account for 2.9% of food stamp recipients, while Native Americans account for 1.2%.

An estimated 20% of Americans have been enrolled in Medicaid.

(Well Kept Wallet)

Roughly 20% of the population in the US is enrolled in the program that helps provide free or low-cost medical care. Similar programs include Medicare that helps people over the age of 65 pay for their medical bills.

Every six in ten Medicaid-supported adults are employed.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Another common misconception is that Medicaid is strictly reserved for the unemployed. On the contrary, 63% of all adult recipients of Medicaid are either full-time or part-time employees. Among the unemployed recipients, the majority (12%) can’t work due to caregiving, while 11% can’t work due to disability.

Nearly half of all adult recipients of Medicaid are employed in the agricultural sector.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Welfare dependency statistics show that 47% of adult Medicaid recipients work in agriculture. Less than half of them are employed in the health and education branches. Meanwhile, 14% of Medicaid-supported adults work in the manufacturing industry.

Medicaid supports cashiers, nurses and retail workers.

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Over half a million cashiers in America need Medicaid support. 401,000 people who work in nursing, psychiatry or other sectors of the health industry are also supported by this program. Meanwhile, Medicaid supports 375,000 retail workers.

Recent data shows that over 9 million children enrolled in programs for health care benefits.

(Well Kept Wallet)

The Child’s Health Insurance Program is a separate program from Medicaid and provides health care benefits to children who do not have other sources of health care coverage. Each year, millions of children are enrolled in CHIP.

Every second immigrant household in the US is enrolled in a welfare program.

(Center for Immigration Studies)

Immigrant households are slightly more dependent on welfare with 51% receiving benefits from one of the programs. In contrast, only 30% of the households of native citizens are welfare recipients.

Four out of ten Americans are part of a welfare program for more than three years.

(US Census Bureau)

One of the most interesting welfare statistics is how long Americans actually use welfare programs. Based on the data collected, 43% of all welfare recipients stayed with the program for at least three years, while those that needed the financial help for just one year account for 31.2% of all welfare recipients. 13.9% stayed with at least one program for up to two years, while only 11.9% stay between two and three years.

Women are more often the recipients of food stamps than men.

(Pew Research Center)

At some point in their lives, 23% of women have used food stamps, while men reported doing so in 12% of the cases. That gap is even more evident among minorities where 39% of black American women said they received food stamps compared to 21% of the men.


Frequently Asked Questions

What percentage of the US population is on welfare?


Every fifth American or 19% of the US population uses welfare. That accounts for 59 million welfare recipients that are part of at least one of the programs like SNAP.

How much does the average welfare recipient receive?


The average welfare packages vary significantly depending on the state and program. For instance, food stamp recipients get only $127 per month. Some other programs, like TANF, can provide around $450 monthly. The exact amount is based on several factors, including the number of members of the household and whether any one of them is employed.

Which states have the most welfare recipients?


Illinois, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee have the most welfare recipients. Florida has the most people on food stamps, over 3 million, while the other three states have over 1 million people dependent on welfare each.

How much does the US spend on welfare 2018?


Some of the data used to compile welfare statistics puts the number at $450 billion, which accounted for 5.6% of the federal budget that year.

About author

I have always thought of myself as a writer, but I began my career as a data operator with a large fintech firm. This position proved invaluable for learning how banks and other financial institutions operate. Daily correspondence with banking experts gave me insight into the systems and policies that power the economy. When I got the chance to translate my experience into words, I gladly joined the smart, enthusiastic Fortunly team.

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