Lots of Americans end up needing government assistance ? Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers. And lots of them move off of it once they no longer need the help.
But some get stuck there. And recently released data from the Census Bureau offer an important picture of who they are.
This new report offers the Bureau?s most comprehensive look yet at dependence on means-tested benefits. From 2009 through 2012, the Bureau found that around 50 million people used these programs on average each month. And a big chunk of that group – nearly a third – spent less than a year collecting benefits. Around a quarter spent between 1-3 years. And 43 percent needed government aid for at least three years.
So who?s in that last group? If you?re worried about aid dependency, it makes sense to focus on those who enter the programs and don?t bounce back out. The Census offered some charts that clearly show three groups stick out: African-Americans, single mothers, and people with less than four years of high school.
More than 56 percent of black aid recipients spent at least three years collecting means-tested benefits, compared to just 36.9 percent of non-Hispanic whites:?
The same pattern holds for different family types. From 2009 through 2012, married couples tended to need assistance only temporarily ? more of them collected benefits for less than a year than did for at least three years. Single fathers fared about the same: they tended to go off assistance in less than a year. But of single mothers who needed help from the government, nearly 60 percent needed it for at least three years.
People with less than four years of high school are also disproportionately likely to spend years collecting government aid. Nearly half of individuals who did not graduate high school and collected benefits did so for at least three years. For people who attended at least one year of college, they generally spent little time collecting government aid. Just 29 percent of those who attended some college and needed help from the government stayed on its dole for at least three years.
The report doesn?t suggest why these groups become stuck on government programs. But Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the former chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, says that economists have some ideas about the underlying reasons. ?It?s well understood that among the factors at work here are low skills and weak employability, especially in slack labor markets,? he wrote in an email. And when you add in troubled schools, discrimination, and segregated neighborhoods, you get large sets of people who have troubled meeting the cost of living without government help.
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