Policy Documents

Welfare Expenditures by Ethnic Group

Robert Rector –
September 1, 2000

At present, over 70 means-tested aid programs provide cash, food, housing, medical care, social services, and training to lower income persons in the United States. Among the largest programs are Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and child nutrition programs.

Total means-tested welfare expenditures by federal and state governments amounted to roughly $384 billion in 1998. Of that sum, $212 billion--55 percent--went to white recipients. Some $105 billion--28 percent--went to black recipients, and $69 billion--17 percent--went to Hispanic recipients.

Aid to black and Hispanic welfare recipients is greater in proportion to the size of their populations than is aid to white recipients. This can be seen by determining the average welfare expenditure per person for each ethnic group.

As a group, the 207 million white residents in the U.S. population receive $212 billion in benefits. As a group, then, they receive some $1,022 per person in welfare aid.

There are some 30 million Hispanic residents in the U.S., and Hispanics as a group receive $69 billion in welfare, or roughly $2,210 per person. As a group, the 33 million black residents in the U.S. receive $105 billion in welfare aid, or roughly $3,230 per person.

These figures represent the hypothetical amount each individual would receive if total welfare spending for each ethnic group were spread evenly among all members of that group. Consequently, the figures should not be interpreted to represent the aid actually received by persons on welfare--those numbers would be far higher.

In addition, the per-capita figures should not be interpreted to mean the typical black or Hispanic welfare recipient receives higher welfare benefits than the typical white recipient. In fact, welfare aid per recipient would tend to be similar across all three ethnic groups.

The per-capita welfare spending figures are higher for black recipients because the percentage of the total black population that receives welfare is greater than the percentage of the white population that receives welfare. The same is true for Hispanic recipients.

The higher rates of welfare receipt among blacks and Hispanics are largely the result of the erosion of marriage among those groups. In 1998, 69.1 percent of black children were born outside of wedlock. Among Hispanics the number was 41.6 percent, while among non-Hispanic whites the number was 21.9 percent.


Robert Rector is a policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.


For more information ...

From Welfare to Work. Mayors should look at the lessons of Wisconsin when thinking about how welfare in their city should be run. (Manhattan Institute; "The Entrepreneurial City," 2000, 12pp.)

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