Roughly one in five Americans receives government assistance each month, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
"Approximately 52.2 million (or 21.3 percent) people in the U.S. participated in major means-tested government assistance programs each month in 2012," said a report issued by the Census Bureau.
Means-tested programs include Medicaid; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps; Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and General Assistance (GA).
Participation in the programs has increased significantly over the last decade: in 2004, there were almost 42 million monthly recipients, an increase by 24.9 percent in the intervening years.
The report found that participation rates were highest for Medicaid (15.3 percent) and SNAP (13.4 percent). Participation rates were lowest for housing assistance (4.2 percent), SSI (3.0 percent) and TANF, which includes GA (1 percent).
"Participation in government programs is dynamic," Shelley Irving, an analyst with the Census Bureau's Social, Economic, and Housing Statistics Division said, according to The Washington Free Beacon
. "The Survey of Income and Program Participation shows how individuals move in and out of government programs and how long they participate in them."
The majority of beneficiaries are dependent on the programs for up to four years, the Census found.
"The largest share of participants (43.0 percent) in any of the public assistance programs stayed in the programs between 37 and 48 months," the Census report said. "Additionally 31.2 percent of people participated between one and 12 months between January 2009 and December 2012."
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