Document Type


Publication Date



Introduction: This report examines comparative trends in receipt of public assistance and poverty rates between 1970 and 2014.

Methods: This study uses the American Community Survey PUMS (Public Use Microdata Series) data for all years considered here released by the Census Bureau and reorganized for public use by the Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota, IPUMSusa. Receipt of public assistance is defined by receiving any amount of one’s income in the previous year from public assistance funds or not. Poverty status is defined by living below the federal poverty line in the previous year or not.

Results: There was an overall decline in the percentage of people who received public assistance between 1970 and 2014, which coincided with an increase in poverty rates over that period. There were disparities in receipt of public assistance among the major race/ethnic groups. Among individuals aged 16 to 64 years public assistance rates decline and poverty rates rose between 1970 and 2014. Among people who received public assistance there were extremely high poverty rates in each year examined in this report, compared with people who did not receive public assistance.

Discussion: Poverty rates were extremely high among people who received public assistance, compared with people who did not receive public assistance. Public assistance may help to reduce poverty, since the poverty rate among public assistance recipients was the lowest when public assistance was at a height in 1980. However, these high and stable poverty rates among public assistance recipients suggests that the historical and current levels of available public assistance are not nearly high enough to significantly reduce the poverty rate.


For additional information you may contact the Center at 212-817-8438 or by e-mail at

Citation information: Calcagno, J. (2016). Trends in Receipt of Public Assistance and Poverty Status, 1970 – 2014. New York, NY: Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.