Unfinished Business: Why Cities Matter to Welfare Reform

This report tracks welfare caseloads in the 89 counties that contain the 100 largest U.S. cities. It finds that, over the last five years, welfare caseloads have become predominantly urban. In 1994, when national welfare rolls hit a historic high, 48 percent of welfare recipients lived in the 89 counties. By contrast, in 1999, these counties were home to 58 percent of the nation's welfare recipients. The fact that families on welfare are concentrated in urban areas has important implications for the success or failure of welfare reform.

Key Findings

The bulk of America's welfare families now live in urban areas, which has important implications for the success or failure of welfare reform. This survey analyzes welfare caseloads in the 89 urban counties that contain the 100 largest U.S. cities between 1994 and 1999. The main findings are:

  • While urban welfare caseloads are declining rapidly, they are shrinking more slowly than national caseloads. Between 1994 and 1999, the urban counties' welfare caseloads dropped by 40.6 percent, while the national caseload dropped by 51.5 percent, a difference of more than 10 percent-age points.

  • Urban areas' share of families on welfare has grown. While the 89 urban counties contained roughly one third (32.6 percent) of the total U.S. population, their share of the national welfare caseload grew from 47.5 per-cent in 1994 to 58.1 percent in 1999.

  • Many urban counties are shouldering vastly more of their state's welfare cases than their share of the state's total population. Fifty-four counties out of 88, or 61 percent, have more than their "fair share" of their state's caseload relative to their share of the total state population, while 34 counties, or 39 percent, have an equivalent or smaller share of the state caseload than of the total population.

  • In 1999, ten states accounted for nearly 70 percent of national welfare cases, up significantly from 42.5 percent in 1994. The bulk of the national welfare population can be found in: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington. These ten states contained 53 percent of the overall national population in 1999.

  • In 1999, ten urban counties contained nearly one third (32.7 percent) of the entire nation's welfare cases, up from less than a quarter (24.0 percent) in 1994. The ten counties are: Los Angeles County, New York City, Cook County (Chicago), Philadelphia County, San Bernadino County, Wayne County (Detroit), San Diego County, Sacramento County, Fresno County, and Cuyahoga County (Cleveland). These counties contained only 12.2 percent of the overall national population in 1999.

  • Since 1996, the overall racial com-position of the welfare caseload in 20 of the largest urban counties has changed only slightly. The proportion of the caseload that was black increased by 0.6 percentage points between 1996 and 1999, the proportion Hispanic increased by 2.7 percentage points, while the proportion white decreased by 3.3 percentage points, and the percentage "other" remained stable.

State Fact Sheets

In 1999, ten states accounted for nearly 70 percent of national welfare cases, up significantly form 42.5 percent in 1994. The bulk of the national welfare population can be found in: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. These ten states contained 53 percent of the overall national population in 1999.

Click on a state below to see a summary of that state's welfare caseload trends. (PDF files)

California
Florida
Georgia
Illinois
Michigan
New York
Ohio
Pennsylvania
Texas
Washington

Download Data 
Urban County and State Welfare Data, 89 Counties (Excel file) 

Racial & Ethnic Welfare Data, 20 Counties (Excel File)