Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016

Key facts about child recipients of welfare (AFDC/TANF)

• In 2017, only 3 percent of children received payments from the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program, compared with 14 percent receiving payments in the early 1990s from the TANF program’s predecessor, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program.
• The percentage of children in poverty receiving TANF has been declining since the mid-1990s; in 2016, only 16 percent received TANF—a record low.
• In the 2016 fiscal year, children ages 16 to 18 represented 8 percent of child TANF recipients, whereas children ages 6 to 11 represented 35 percent—the highest proportion among all age groups.

Trends in child recipients of welfare (AFDC/TANF)

After rising from 6.1 million in 1970 to 9.5 million in 1993, the number of children receiving AFDC/TANF payments fell to 1.9 million in 2017. Similarly, the percentage of all children receiving AFDC/TANF steadily decreased from 14 percent in 1993 to 3 percent in 2017. However, the percentage of all children receiving TANF increased slightly during the recession that began in late 2007 (the Great Recession), from 3.9 percent in 2008 to 4.4 percent in 2010. Among children living in families below the federal poverty line, the proportion receiving AFDC/TANF decreased from 62 percent in 1995 to 16 percent in 2016 (Appendix 1).

Following the Great Recession, the number of children receiving TANF payments rose to 3.3 million in 2010 and 2011, then fell to 1.9 million in 2017—the lowest number in recent record. The percentage of children receiving benefits also increased slightly to 4.4 percent in 2010, before decreasing to 2.5 percent in 2017. However, as a proportion of all children living in poverty, the percentage receiving TANF declined over most of this period; in 2016 (the most recent year data available), only 15.5 percent of children living in poverty received TANF—a record low (Appendix 1).

Differences by age

Compared to adolescents, younger children are recipients of TANF benefits at higher proportions. In the 2016 fiscal year, 13 percent of children receiving TANF funds were under age 2, and 26 percent were ages 2 to 5. Only 8 percent of children receiving TANF were ages 16 to 18. A disproportionate share of TANF recipients, relative to the general child population, are under age 6 (Appendix 2).

Differences by race/Hispanic origin

In fiscal year 2016, approximately 4 in 10 (39 percent) child TANF recipients were Hispanic, and 3 in 10 recipients (28 percent) were black. By comparison, Hispanic children represented 37 percent of all children in poverty, with black children representing an additional 24 percent. White children represented 31 percent of children in poverty and 27 percent of child TANF recipients (Appendix 2).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

State estimates are available from the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance, at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/data-reports/.

International Estimates

None available.

Data and appendices

Data sources

TANF caseload data for 2000–2017: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2000–2017). TANF Caseload Data [Tables]. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/data-reports.

TANF caseload data for FY 1970–1999: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. (2008). Indicators of welfare dependence: Annual report to the Congress, 2008. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators08/apa.shtml.

All other data for FY 2010–2016: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance. (2011–2017). Characteristics and financial circumstances of TANF recipients, fiscal year 2010–2016 [Tables 28, 30, & 33]. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource-library/search?area[2377]=2377&topic[2353]=2353.

All other data for FY 1998–2009: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance. (1998–2012). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program: Annual reports to Congress. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/ofa/resource-library/search?area[2377]=2377#?area[2377]=2377&type[3085]=3085&ajax=1.

General poverty and population data: U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). CPS Table Creator [Data Tool]. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/cps/data/cpstablecreator.html.

Raw data source

Caseload numbers are administrative data compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Family Assistance.

Poverty and population data are from the Current Population Survey: http://www.bls.gov/cps/home.htm.

Appendices

Appendix 1. Child Recipients of AFDC/TANF: 1970–2017

Appendix 2. Percentage and Number of Child Recipients of TANF, by Age and Race/Hispanic Origin: FY 1998–2016

Background

Definition

In September 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (Public Law 104-193) repealed the Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in its place. The purposes of TANF are to (1) provide assistance to needy families so that children may be cared for either in their own homes or in the homes of relatives; (2) end welfare dependence by promoting preparation for jobs, work, and marriage; (3) prevent and reduce nonmarital pregnancies; and (4) encourage the formation and preservation of two-parent families. Figures for this report are based on state-reported administrative data on participants in the program who received cash grants. Yearly totals are based on the average monthly number of participants.

Links to policies affecting cash assistance to low-income households can be found at the Self-Sufficiency Research Clearinghouse: https://www.opressrc.org/topics/tanf-policy-services-and-benefits.

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Child recipients of welfare. Bethesda, MD: Author. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/child-recipients-of-welfareafdctanf 

Endnotes

[1] Some states may set family income thresholds for eligibility for TANF non-cash benefits that exceed the federal poverty level, and eligibility for cash benefits in child-only cases are not determined by family income when the child is living with relatives (the case in half of child-only cases). Thus, it may be that not all children receiving TANF live in poverty.
[2] Hispanic children may be of any race. Estimates for white and black children in this report do not include Hispanic children.
[3] U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means. (2004). Green Book: Background material and data on the programs within the jurisdiction of the committee on ways and means. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://greenbook.waysandmeans.house.gov/.