Long-Term Welfare Dependence

Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016

Trends in Long-Term Welfare Dependence

62_fig1During the period 1999 to 2008, young children (ages five and younger in 1999) whose families received welfare benefits were much less likely to receive support from the program for many years, and more likely to receive benefits for just one or two of those years, compared with the period 1969 to 1978.  From 1969 to 1978, 33 percent of children ages five and younger in 1969 received benefits for less than three years, 28 percent received benefits for three to five years, and 38 percent received welfare payments for six or more of those years.  Between 1989 and 1998, the proportion receiving benefits for one or two years increased slightly, to 40 percent, while those receiving benefits for six or more years decreased slightly, to 32 percent.  By 1999-2008, only eight percent of children received benefits for six or more of those ten years, while 73 percent received benefits for less than three.  (Figure 1)

Even for those children in TANF for more than three years, that time may not have been in a single block. In 2004, Nearly half (48 percent) of spells in TANF among children under six lasted four months or less, and another 22 percent lasted between five and twelve months.  Eighty-two percent of spells in TANF for that age group lasted less than 20 months.[1]

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin[2]

62_fig2Non-Hispanic black children are about twice as likely as non-Hispanic white children to receive benefits for more than five years, a difference that has changed little in four decades. Between 1969-1978, among children ages birth to five (in 1969) receiving any welfare payment during the decade, black children were more likely to receive benefits for the majority of that period (six or more years) than were white children (52 and 30 percent respectively).  Between 1989 and 1998, the proportions were 44 and 18 percent, among black and white children, respectively, and between 1999 and 2008 the proportions were 15 and seven

percent, respectively. (Figure 2)

Data and Appendix

Data Source

Crouse, G., and Waters, A. (2013). Indicators of welfare dependence: Twelfth report to congress. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Table IND 9. Available at: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators08/index.shtml.

Raw Data Source

Unpublished tabulations from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and public release data files, 1969-2008.





The term “welfare” in this report includes the federal AFDC and TANF programs, both of which have provided cash aid to needy families. In 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 program in its place.  The stated 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. [3]

This indicator examines the proportion of children in families receiving AFDC/TANF payments who, over the course of ten years, spent 1-2 years, 3-5 years, 6-8 years, and 9-10 years receiving payments. The times during which children received benefits may not have been in consecutive years. The cohort of children observed during each 10-year period includes only those who were under the age of six at the beginning of the period.


[1] Crouse, G., and Waters, A. (2013). Indicators of welfare dependence: Twelfth report to congress. U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Table IND 7a. Available at: http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/indicators08/index.shtml.

[2] Hispanics may be any race.  Estimates for whites and blacks do not include Hispanics of that race.

[3] Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, 2004 Green Book, section 7-4. Available at http://fms.treas.gov/greenbook/index.html.

Suggested Citation

Child Trends. (2013). Long-term welfare dependence. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=long-term-welfare-dependence