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April 1996, Vol. 119, No. 4
William D. Passero
How do households that receive public assistance spend their income? And, how are employment and demographic characteristics of these families related to their expenditure levels?
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey can provide some answers to these and other questions about the demographic characteristics of consumer units, or households, receiving public assistance and the ways in which they allocate their expenditure dollar among categories of goods and services. This article presents an analysis of these data, with special emphasis on employment status and family structure as possible influences on spending patterns. Tables 1 through 3 show the demographic characteristics, types of assistance received, and average annual expenditures of households receiving any of the six forms of assistance for which data are available.
General household characteristics
Households on public assistance average just over three persons, with about 1-1/4 children under 18. (See table 1.) The reference person is about 46 years old, slightly younger than the average of 47.9 years for all other households. This runs counter to the perception that families receiving public assistance are significantly younger than the population at large. While it is true that assistance income in the form of Aid to Families with Dependent Children goes primarily to families who are younger than the average family in the expenditure survey sample, sources such as Supplemental Security Income are targeted toward the elderly. Many of the households receiving public assistance have working members and own a vehicle: the average number of earners is 0.9, while the average number of vehicles is 1.
About two-thirds of the households rent their living quarters, while the roughly 30 percent who are homeowners are equally split between those paying off a mortgage and those with no mortgage. For every household with a reference person aged 65 or older, there are almost four with a younger reference person. About 60 percent of the households are headed by women, while 3 in 10 have a black reference person. Husband-wife households with any combination of additional members comprise just over one third of the sample of households receiving some form of public assistance. Single-person units make up one-quarter of the sample, single-parent units another one-fifth, and all other types of units the remaining fifth.
This excerpt is from an article published in the April 1996 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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