25+ Vital US Welfare Statistics


Sometimes you hit a rough patch in life and it takes more than time to get through it.

When it comes to financial hardships specifically, it’s the government that takes on the role of helper. Low-income individuals and families often rely on welfare programs, especially in a time of crisis, such as the coronavirus pandemic which delivered a heavy blow to the economy worldwide.

So how do welfare work and how many people rely on it? Here are some statistics to give you a clear picture.

Fascinating Welfare Statistics and Facts

  • The number of people on welfare in the US is 59 million.
  • There are 6 major welfare programs in the US.
  • Four out of ten people in the US have been part of a welfare program for over 3 years.
  • Nearly 50% of Americans believe government spending on social security needs to be increased.
  • US taxpayers have paid more than $22 trillion for welfare programs over the course of 50 years.
  • An estimated 20% of people in the US are supported by Medicaid.
  • In 2019, for every 100 families in poverty, only 23 received cash assistance from TANF.
  • Almost 73% of TANF recipients in the US are children.
  • USDA tapped $5 million from federal funds to investigate SNAP fraud.

General Stats

Let’s see what stats have to say:

#1 The number of people on welfare in the US is 59 million.

(Urban Institute)

That’s roughly 19% of the US population and this includes individuals who use safety net programs, according to an analysis conducted by the Urban Institute in 2019. That’s before the world was hit by the pandemic that shattered the financial well-being of many around the globe.

#2 There are 6 major welfare programs in the US.

(The Balance)

They include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) or “food stamps,” House Assistance, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF), and Supplemental Security Income.

#3 Nearly 50% of Americans believe government spending on social security needs to be increased.

(Pew Research Center)

48% of Americans argue that the government should increase spending on social security. More than half, or 55%, said it should spend more on Medicare. 46% and 31% said they want more spending on money for assistance to the low-wage workers and assistance to the unemployed, respectively. Moreover, a staggering 72% expressed support for higher veteran benefits.

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

(Urban Institute)

It is believed that around 46 million people in the US live below the US poverty threshold. Among those who are below the 50% threshold income-wise, 5.5 million people (30%) do not receive any assistance.

Available data shows that 72% of people need financial help from at least one welfare program.

#5 Four out of ten people in the US have been part of a welfare program for over 3 years.

(US Census Bureau)

How long do people need welfare before they reach a point when they no longer have to ask the government for financial help?” This is one of the questions that’s at the center of the debate of whether welfare programs are beneficial in the long run.

According to US government welfare statistics and data from the Census Bureau, 43% of all welfare recipients remain on their respective programs for more than three years. 32% remain on the program for one year, while 13.9% stayed with at least one program for two years.

#6 New York spends the most on welfare, paying a total of $19.85 billion in welfare expenditures.


The state of New York records a welfare spending of $3,305 per capita. While its per capita is not the highest in the US, it’s no surprise that welfare economics dictate that New York should spend the most on welfare, given how expensive it is to live in the state.

#7 67% of low-income families receive 3 food benefits.

(Urban Institute)

It is common for low-income families to receive multiple types of benefits. More than half of them are part of at least three welfare programs, while a little over 60% are recipients of at least two benefits.

Meanwhile, 60% of low-income families get public health insurance, according to a survey from the Urban Institute. Find out how health insurance works here.

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

(Yahoo Finance)

US government welfare statistics show that the state of Wyoming spends $834 million on welfare. South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, and Vermont also have their welfare spending under $2 billion. South Dakota dedicates $1.1 billion to welfare, North Dakota – $1.6 billion, while Montana and Vermont allocated $1.8 billion each.

The Cost of Welfare

Let’s check the numbers:

#9 The government spent around $1.03 trillion on welfare programs in 2011.

(U.S. State Senate Budget Committee)

Needless to say, this number made headlines and triggered a lot of discussion about welfare in the US. This sum includes the money the government spent on more than 80 federal welfare programs.

The amount of money that goes to welfare programs is a controversial topic and many disagree on whether it’s too much, too little, or just the right amount.

#10 US taxpayers have paid more than $22 trillion on welfare programs over the course of 50 years.

(The Heritage Foundation)

Welfare stats show that’s the amount that US taxpayers have spent in the 50 years after 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson announced a war on poverty in his State of the Union address.

When adjusted for inflation, the cost of welfare is three times higher than that of all US military action since the American Revolution, The Heritage Foundation says.

#11 TANF cost $30.9 billion in 2019.

(Congressional Research Service)

$6.5 billion of the funds went to assistance. The biggest spenders in the US include refundable tax credits ($2.8 billion), work, education and training ($3.2 billion), and head start ($2.6 billion), according to the numbers provided by the government. $4.6 billion, which is a significant share, went to TANF services, welfare statistics and facts show.

#12 SNAP cost the government $65 billion.

(American Public Health Association)

That number has been on the rise since, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, with an added $2 billion per month to help Americans tackle the crisis.

Federal Welfare Programs Stats

Let’s check:

#13 In 2020, the average number of participants in the SNAP program was 39,884.

(U.S. Department of Agriculture)

SNAP is the largest program of all and has been for a long time, according to welfare statistics by year, with an average of 40 million people using it each month in 2020. The average benefit per person last year was $155.00, the total benefits cost $74,185.09, reaching $79,201.87 with the additional costs.

#14 An estimated 20% of people in America are supported by Medicaid.

(Well Kept Wallet)

Roughly 20% of the US population is part of the Medicaid program that either covers medical care entirely or helps people get it at a lower cost. It’s a popular but controversial program. Some argue that it’s essential while others say it’s unsustainable.

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

(Kaiser Family Foundation)

Welfare statistics show that 47% of Medicaid recipients in the US who are older than 18 work in the agricultural industry. Fewer than half are part of the health and education branches. Only 14% of the recipients are employed in the manufacturing industry.

#16 A SNAP recipient receives $127 a month on average.

(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

That translates to $4.17 a day or $1.39 per meal.

The average amount of money that SNAP recipients get from the program ranges from $131 to $506. The number largely depends on the size of their household and on how close they are to the poverty threshold.

For example, a family of five usually receives a maximum of $762, according to welfare recipient statistics.

#17 Michigan recorded an 82% jump in TANF caseload in four months.

(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

This is the highest rise in the caseload that has been recorded in 2020, CBPP reports. The caseload skyrocketed by 82% between February and May in 2020 as many states introduced measures to combat the effects of the pandemic as well as high unemployment rates.

#18 There were 2,930 TANF recipients in June 2020.

(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

The number of TANF recipients dropped from 2.15 million in 2019 to around 2 million in March 2019. It jumped again because of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, welfare advocates believe that the number of families who need financial support under this program far exceeds those that are part of it.

#19 The number of food stamp recipients decreased by 3 million in 2019.

(US News)

Welfare statistics showed that 2019 marked a significant drop in the number of Americans who depend on SNAP. Specifically, there were 33.6 million people in the US who used food stamps. That represents a drop of 10 million since 2016.

#20 In 2019, for every 100 families in poverty, only 23 received cash assistance from TANF.

(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

The CBPP reports that this number was 68 out of 100 in 1996, adding that this so-called “TANF-to-poverty ratio” is one of the lowest in the history of the US.

It notes that if TANF was similar to the Aid to Families with Dependent Child (AFDC), a program that ended in 1997, an additional 2 million families would have received financial aid in 2019, taking the current poverty rates into consideration.

#21 The biggest number of TANF recipients, calculated at a total of 1,169,991 people, live in California.

(Office of Family Assistance)

New York had around 309,525 TANF users, followed by Massachusetts with 122,865, Ohio with 105,398, and Washington with 102,292. The rest of the states have fewer than 100,000 welfare recipients, welfare facts and statistics show.

#22 Almost 73% of TANF recipients in the US are children.

(Congressional Research Service)

There are a total of 2,132,800 TANF recipients who are under the age of 18. In comparison, there are 797,744 adults who received TANF benefits in June 2020. Advocates say that the number of children that need financial help in the US is one of the most concerning aspects of the welfare issue.

#23 Roughly 1.3 million low-income veterans receive SNAP assistance.

(Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)

The majority of the recipients live in Florida (116,000), Texas (97,000), and California (94,000). It’s worth noting that these are among the largest states in the US.

Also, around 20% of households who receive help under SNAP include a veteran.

Welfare Fraud

Let’s see the numbers:

#24 USDA tapped $5 million from federal funds to investigate SNAP fraud.

(Department of Agriculture)

SNAP fraud has been an issue since its beginning, which is why there is a lot of criticism about how the program is regulated. In 2020, the USDA said it would take $5 million from the federal fund to investigate fraud related to SNAP.

#25 Taxpayers are losing $100 billion a year due to welfare fraud, abuse, and improper payments.

(Downsizing the Federal Government)

This includes payments that should not have been made or were overpaid. What’s more, this number does not account for fraud related to all the programs. This means that the loss in funds to fraud when it comes to welfare might be even higher.

Welfare Demographics

Let’s see what stats have to say:

(Urban Institute)

This represents 24 million children under the age of 18 of 32% of the population in the US. They account for 41% of all welfare users. Individuals aged between 18 and 64 accounts for 50% of the recipients, while seniors (65 and older) account for just 12% of the population that’s on welfare.

#27 50% of immigrant households in the US are enrolled in a welfare program.

(Center for Immigration Studies)

Immigrant households are disproportionately dependent on welfare compared to other American citizens. The Center for Immigration Studies reports that 51% of immigrant households in the US receive benefits from at least one welfare program.

In comparison, only 30% of households belonging to American citizens are welfare recipients.

Welfare Statistics by Race for 2021

#28 43% of the people who receive welfare are white.

(Urban Institute)

White people make up the biggest chunk of welfare recipients. 24% of those who are on welfare are Hispanics, 23% are Black, while Asians and Native Americans account for 8% of all the recipients.

#29 85% of African Americans received at least one form of aid in 2018.

(Urban Institute)

According to the study conducted by the Urban Institute, African Americans are the most likely to receive welfare benefits. They were followed by whites, at 70%. Asians and Hispanics were the least likely to receive aid, at 67% and 66% respectively.

The question still remains whether individuals living in communities with the highest poverty rates are prioritized when it comes to welfare benefits.

#30 23% of women have used food stamps

(Pew Research Center)

The average percentage of women who have used food stamps is higher than men. In comparison, 12% of men used food stamps at some point in their life, according to the Pew Research Center.

The gap is even wider when it’s broken down into racial categories. 39% of Black American women said they received food stamps and only 21% of Black men, welfare statistics show.

To Wrap Up

Welfare has always been a controversial topic in and outside of the US. There are ongoing debates about whether it truly helps the economy and whether too much of it could hurt a country in the long run.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that helping the poor is necessary to prevent high levels of starvation and provide for those who have lost a job unexpectedly.


When she couldn’t decide between being a nurse, a psychotherapist, and a financial genius, Ofelia decided to do all three. Her interests run far and wide, and she loves researching about everything you get to read on our website. Credit cards or top-notch software, she’s here to tell it all like it is.

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