What does this measure?
The number of households that received any public assistance or welfare payments in the past 12 months, expressed as a percentage of total households.
Why is this important?
This measure represents the number of households which rely upon government support to meet their basic needs.
How is our county doing?
In 2017-21, 4.3% of Essex County households received public assistance income, an increase from 3.1% in 2000. This was higher than the state rate (3.2%) and the nation (2.6%). The state rate increased very slightly since 2000, while the national rate declined 1 point. Among Essex County cities with statistically reliable results, Lawrence (11.4%) had the highest rate followed by Haverhill (8.8%) in 2017-21.
How do we compare to similar counties?
Essex County's 2017-21 rate was higher than Lake, IL (2%), Westchester, NY (2.4%) and Middlesex, MA (2.5%).
Notes about the data
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federally funded program administered at the state level, meaning that eligibility requirements vary from state to state. ACS does not ask specifically which program provides the income, although TANF is the primary source of public assistance funds. Families are eligible for TANF benefits for up to 60 months, although most receive assistance for shorter periods of time.
Studies have found that national survey estimates (including the ACS) of enrollment in public benefit programs tend to underestimate the true rate due to underreporting by participants, when compared with state-level administrative data. Underreporting can occur for a variety of reasons, including the social stigma of program participation and participants' confusion about the source of the services they receive. For these reasons, the estimates reported above should be considered a lower bound of the true estimate.