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Spending patterns of public-assisted families
May, 2000, Vol. 123, No. 5
Families receiving public assistance differ from other families not only demographically, but also in the way they spend. Expenditures on basic needs account for a larger share of the assisted families’ spending. Furthermore, when the assisted families are classified by the number of public assistance programs received (such as medicaid, food stamps, and subsidized housing), the data indicate that such families are not homogeneous—their demographics are different, as are their spending patterns.
This article summarizes the demographic characteristics and expenditure patterns of families receiving public assistance. The results are based on responses to the Interview survey component of the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, conducted in 1998. 1
Federal, State, and local governments provide a variety of assistance programs to low-income families. The Consumer Expenditure Survey collects data on out-of-pocket expenditures of persons by family, as well as their demographic characteristics—including whether the family receives some types of public assistance.2 For the purpose of this article, a family is classified as an assisted family if it reported receiving at least one of the following six types of public assistance: supplementary security income (SSI), welfare, medicaid, food stamps, government housing subsidies, or public housing.3
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1 Data presented in this study are for complete income reporting consumer units interviewed from January through December 1998. Due to the 3- month reference period of the quarterly Interview component of the Consumer Expenditure Survey, the data for this article include data for October 1997 through November 1998; this effectively constitutes 12 months of data due to the rotating sample design of the survey.
Complete income reporters are respondents who have provided values for major sources of income, such as wages and salaries, self-employment income, and Social Security income. Even complete income reporters may not have provided a full accounting of all income from all sources. In the current survey, across-the-board zero income reporting was designated as invalid, and the consumer unit was categorized as an incomplete reporter.
A consumer unit includes: 1) members of a household related by blood, marriage, adoption or other legal arrangement; 2) a person living alone or sharing a household with others but who is responsible for at least two of the following three major types of expenses—food, housing, and other expenses; or 3) two or more persons living together who pool their income to make joint expenditure decisions.
2 For this article, a family refers to the term, consumer unit, which is the unit of analysis in the Consumer Expenditure Survey.
3 Supplemental security income refers to assistance payments to low-income aged, blind or disabled persons; the requirements vary by State. Welfare assistance includes payments under various assistance programs, such as emergency assistance, general assistance, and Cuban Refugee Assistance. The Consumer Expenditure Survey asks for the total value expended on food; the survey does not distinguish if any part of that food expenditure was paid for with food stamps.
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Consumer Expenditure Surveys
Related Monthly Labor Review articles
Spending patterns of families receiving public assistance.—Apr. 1996.
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