For millions of Americans, earnings alone are not sufficient to make ends meet. Some work steadily at wages too low to lift their families out of poverty. In 2013, a full time minimum wage worker makes about $15,000 a year, yet, according to United States Census Bureau, a family of four needs to earn approximately $23,000 a year to live above the poverty line. Others are unable to work steadily or at all, because of disability, family crisis, old age, or poor economic conditions. When an adequate income from work is not possible, Americans should be able to count on a cash assistance safety net. A number of federal and/or state programs provide cash support to needy individuals or families. They include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), for poor families with children; Supplemental Security Income (SSI), for low-income elderly and people of any age with disabilities; and Unemployment Compensation, for qualifying unemployed people.
Increasingly, America’s safety net is failing to catch many people in need. Currently, there are about 4.1 million people in the country who have been unemployed for at least 27 weeks. About one-third of them are scraping by with help from the unemployment-benefit program. Restrictive rules governing Temporary Assistance for Needy Families have resulted in a precipitous drop in the number of poor families with children receiving this assistance. In 1997, for every 100 families in poverty, 60 received benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. However, by 2010, only 27 families received TANF benefits for every 100 in poverty.
Effective income support policy should help people assemble an adequate income package. For many, earnings will form the core of such a package, augmented, as appropriate, by tax credits, child support, and various forms of cash assistance. In-kind aid, such as food stamps, home energy assistance, Medicaid, and subsidized housing, also play a role in helping families or individuals to secure basic necessities.
For more information on this issue, visit CHN’s Public Policy Priorities, 2015-2016.
Center for Community Change
Center for Law and Social Policy
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Center for American Progress
National Women’s Law Center
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
- February 6, 2017CBPP: TANF at 20 (Chart Book)
- November 28, 2016Reveal News: A welfare check
Policy Analyses and Research
- April 3, 2017EPI: Balancing Paychecks and Public Assistance
- August 9, 2016NCCP: 50 State Policy Tracker