The Growing Role of Public Assistance in Childhood

Posted January 24, 2019
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Illustration of an adult holding a child's hand

Between 2005 and 2017, 46 out of 50 states saw an uptick in the per­cent­age of kids who were liv­ing in fam­i­lies that receive pub­lic assis­tance.

In some states, this increase was dra­mat­ic. Four exam­ples: Neva­da (11% to 27%), New Mex­i­co (24% to 37%), Flori­da (19% to 31%) and Delaware (15% to 27%) each saw this sta­tis­tic soar from 2005 to 2017.

In a few instances, the upswing was slight. Two states report­ed just one per­cent­age point dif­fer­ence in their 2005 and 2017 rates: Mis­souri (23% to 24%) and Arkansas (26% to 27%).

At the nation­al lev­el, this trend toward pub­lic assis­tance — which includes cash and food assis­tance — holds true. In 2005, near­ly one in five kids across the coun­try (more than 13.8 mil­lion chil­dren total) lived in a fam­i­ly that received pub­lic assis­tance. Today, one in four kids in Amer­i­ca — near­ly 18.6 mil­lion chil­dren — lives in such a family.

There are four excep­tions at the state lev­el. The per­cent­age of kids in fam­i­lies that received pub­lic assis­tance held steady in two states — Maine (23%) and North Dako­ta (15%) — and decreased in just two states — Wyoming (14% to 13%) and Louisiana (36% to 35%).

Pub­lic assis­tance pro­grams are designed to help low-income fam­i­lies afford basic liv­ing expens­es while giv­ing chil­dren the resources and oppor­tu­ni­ties that they need to grow. Kids whose fam­i­lies ben­e­fit from these sup­ports are more like­ly to per­form bet­ter in school and have bet­ter health outcomes.

A larg­er per­cent­age of kids grow­ing up with pub­lic assis­tance sup­port could mean — among oth­er things — that access to these pro­grams has expand­ed or that the need for these pro­grams has increased.

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