News Release

Long-Term Welfare Recipients Found Overwhelmingly Concentrated in Urban Areas

September 25, 2002

With the deadline for congressional reauthorization of welfare reform imminent, the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy today released a new report that demonstrates an overwhelming concentration of long-term welfare recipients in large urban cities and counties. The study, “Timing Out: Long-Term Welfare Caseloads in Large Cities and Counties,” analyzes caseload data in the 47 counties containing 50 of the nation’s largest cities as of December 2001. Co-authored by Margy Waller and Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution, the report reveals that:

  • Adult-headed welfare cases subject to time limits are concentrated in urban counties with large cities. The urban counties studied, home to 50 of the nation’s largest cities, contain 52 percent of their states’ adult-headed cases, compared to just 33 percent of their states’ total population.
  • Most urban counties have a disproportionate share of their states’ adult-headed welfare caseloads. In 32 of the 47 urban counties, the county’s share of statewide welfare recipients exceeds its share of the state’s general population.
  • Long-term adult-headed cases are even more concentrated in urban counties with large cities than welfare caseloads generally. The 47 urban counties contained more than 70 percent of their state’s adult-headed cases with a long-term history on welfare. Many of the nation’s largest urban areas—including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Baltimore—are home to the vast majority of their states’ long-term cases.
  • More than one-fourth (27.5 percent) of all adult-headed welfare cases nationwide live in just ten urban counties. The ten counties where these welfare recipients were living in December 2001 were: Los Angeles, New York City (all five boroughs), Philadelphia, Cook (Chicago), Sacramento, Shelby (Memphis), San Diego, Fresno, Baltimore City, and the District of Columbia.

“These statistics highlight a significant trend as Congress considers the reauthorization of welfare reform,” said Margy Waller, visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy and former senior advisor to the Clinton administration on welfare. “Families on welfare for four years or more are concentrated in our nation’s largest cities, in some places to a tremendous degree. Many of these families are working, but their earnings are so low they remain eligible for some cash assistance. Others have not been able to find a job and are likely to face barriers to work. It is critical that federal welfare policy preserve and extend the flexibility to address the needs of long-term recipients, and provide adequate resources to help these families succeed at work with services like child care, transitional employment, and transportation assistance.”

The report can be downloaded at

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