Census Report says Recession Taking Toll on Families, More Receiving Assistance

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau says that the number of American families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding has increased by more than 20 percent since 2006.

The findings from the report state that in 2009 the rate of families in the United States participating in the federal welfare program surged from 3.8 percent in 2006 to 4.8 just three years later. The report, entitled “Comparing Program Participation of TANF and non-TANF Families Before and During a Time of Recession,” compared data collected in Sept. 2006 and Aug. 2009 to assess the effects of the economic downturn on families with children under the age of 18 in the United States.

TANF is administrated by the Department of Health and Human Services. It provides temporary assistance to families in need, with an aim of getting them off that assistance. TANF, know until 1996 as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, uses federal funding but is administrated by the states.

While participation rates for married families with children increased from 2006 to 2009, the report states that there were no significant changes in TANF participation rates for single-parent households, nor were there any increases in TANF participation for families already classified as poor.

The report also states that children, whether living in a TANF family or not, are far likelier to have at least one unemployed parent than in 2006. According to the report, the percentage of families on TANF assistance with two employed parents dropped from 66.9 percent in 2006 to 59.6 percent in 2009, while equivalent statistics dropped from 95.1 percent to 94.1 percent for non-TANF families.

While the report finds more non-TANF families receiving energy assistance and food stamps than in 2006, the report also says that the number of TANF families engaged in employment-seeking and job skills programs have increased by more than 50 percent since 2006.

Report author Shelley K. Irving, a demographer in the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division, said that the married-couple families, who generally have the lowest levels of participation in federal welfare programs, saw an increase in TANF participation in the three-year timeframe.

“The report suggests that the recent economic recession impacted American families with children and that the impact was not just limited to TANF families or poor families,” she commented.


Young and Poor in America

Some 46 million people (a number representing more than 15 percent of the population) in the nation now live below the poverty line.

Photo credit: khteWisconsin/FlickrDismal figures released by the Census Bureau last week not only brought news of a record number of poor living in poverty in the United States, they also revealed that young people have suffered more than any other group during the nation’s economic downturn.

Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 saw their family’s income fall 15.3 percent between 2007 and 2010, the most precipitous decline of any group. They were followed by those aged 45 to 54, who witnessed a fall off of 9.2 percent, while those 65 and older saw incomes rise by more than 5 percent, according to the Census.

Poverty experts have good reasons why the young have absorbed much of the pain.

“This group of young people has suffered enormously because of this recession,” said Curtis Skinner, director of the Family Economic Security Department at the  National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia University. “The big factor, of course, is the unemployment rate. Kids coming out of school, recent college graduates are having a particularly hard time breaking into the job market. “

The last few years have been rough, of course, because of the Great Recession. With a growth rate at around 1 percent and unemployment still stubbornly above 9 percent, the number of poor has steadily increased. Overall, family income has been eroded dramatically, down some 6 percent since the onset of economic troubles in 2008, while GDP has been anemic at best. Housing and real estate have lost much of their value and while the rate of homes in foreclosure slowed in recent months, a resurgence is expected as banks begin to clear a backlog.

Other economists point out that older Americans have not been effected quite as dramatically by the recession because many have been able to hold on to their jobs and they have retirement saving and pensions. Additionally, many older Americans are recipients of entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

The growing income gap between the young and the old could ignite a further debate over the nation’s priorities.

For example, Isabel V. Sawhill, an expert on budget policy at the Brookings Institution, told the New York Times, “we are spending too much of our limited resources on the elderly, and not investing enough in programs for younger Americans.”

The recent Census figures showed a nation with more than 46 million poor, or 15 percent of the population. It is the highest number of poor recorded in the country in 52 years.

Earlier, JJIE wrote about poverty figures released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation showing an even bleaker picture of child poverty in the nation using higher poverty thresholds.

Officials of the Casey Foundation said that 42 percent of the nation's children, or 31 million, were found to live in families with incomes twice the federal poverty line, or some $43,500 a year for a family of four.

The federal poverty threshold is currently set at $22,314 a year for a family of four. Skinner pointed out that using this threshold meant that this is only the third time since 1965 that the nation has seen the poverty level go above 15 percent, Both of  the earlier occasions, in 1993 and in 1983, came in the wake of recessions.

He went on to say that in the past, young people have used economic downturns to go to school, to return to school or to continue in graduate school. But that silver lining, he said, is quickly melting away in this acrid economic environment where federal and state budget cuts are now seriously beginning to impact colleges and universities.

“Young people today,” said Skinner, “they are between a rock and a hard place.”

Photo credit: khteWisconsin/Flickr

One Agency’s Budget Struggles Typical of Nation

Opening slide to DCANP Sustainability MeetingsAlabama’s only agency designated to prevent child abuse and neglect, among the many juvenile justice departments around the nation grappling with a smaller budget, will serve nearly half the number of kids in 2012 as they did in 2011.

The Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention (DCANP) is preparing to cut 74 community-based programs around the state when the new budget takes effect October 1. The cuts bring the total number of programs to just 101 for FY 2012, compared to 227 funded in FY 2005.

The reduction in services represents roughly 14,000 kids that will no longer have access to community-based prevention programs.

“I’m really concerned with the burden of the system as a whole,” says Kelley Parris-Barnes, director of the DCANP. “When you take the community-level programs out you don’t have the capacity in the state to do it.”

The DCANP doesn’t deliver services directly. Rather, the department funds a variety of community-based prevention and education programs. According to Barnes, community members have the capacity and cultural relationship to identify at-risk children long before state-level agencies are able to.

The financial challenges facing the department and the state as a whole are not much different than those facing local governments throughout the United States. Texas, Idaho, Louisiana and many others have witnessed a reduction in juvenile related services.

“There’s not a state, county or city not making the same evaluation with the current budget situation we’re in,” says state Rep. Jack Williams, the Republican chair of Alabama’s Children and Senior Advocacy Committee, adding the committee plans to look at the effectiveness of existing programs and set benchmarks for the future.

“If an agency is serving children in need and doing an effective job I want to do everything I can to support them in the greatest capacity the state has, but we’re going to have to set some benchmarks,” Williams says. “At some point there is going to have to be a line and if you fall below it, the state is not going to be helping [with funding] anymore.”

The DCANP has already seen some steep state-level cuts in writing. When the budget takes effect at the beginning of October the agency will lose nearly 75 percent of its funding from the state’s General Fund and almost a third from Alabama’s Education Trust Fund.

click to download
A letter 'for prevention' to Sue Bell Cobb. Click to download.

Also gone completely is $1.5 million in federal money to fund the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, and roughly $200,000 from other federal funding.

“The Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention should be the last thing cut in the state budget because of the far-reaching consequences for the safety of children,” says Sue Bell Cobb, former Alabama Chief Justice and long-time child advocate.

In a letter to Cobb, DCANP director Parris-Barnes outlined the effectiveness of community-based prevention programs, citing the fact that every dollar spent on child preventative services represents a minimum of $5.68 in state savings.

In the interim, the department and other child advocacy groups in the state are looking to keep programs afloat through a variety of measures. The DCANP has been holding sustainability meetings with program leaders from around the state to outline the impact of specific cuts to each district. Among the topics were tactics for pursuing outside funding and getting children into alternative programs.

click for budget cut's impact by district
Click for budget cut's impact by district

Alabama’s Children First Foundation is drawing plans to advocate for an increased tobacco tax in an effort to drum up additional funding for child services in the state.

“All child advocates in Alabama are extremely concerned about the reduction in funding to the Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention and other child services,” Cobb said. “There’s still so much to be done because we’ve really never had the adequate funding or appropriate priority put on these [prevention] programs.”

In 2009, the last year data was available, Alabama ranked 46th among the states of children living in poverty, according to the Census Bureau.

Alabama's governor's office was unavailable for comment prior to deadline.

New Interactive Mapping Tool Shows Who Your Neighbors Are

If you’re looking for something to think about over the holidays, this could be it.

The New York Times has used Census Bureau data to map out the distribution of racial and ethnic groups across the country. You can literally put in your zip code and see the breakdown in your town. You can even scroll your mouse over different areas to see detailed percentages.

This could be useful to schools, police departments, juvenile courts and those who may be interested in the disproportionate minority contact problem facing the nation.

To check out the map out, click here.