Support for Low-Income Individuals and Families:

A Review of Recent GAO Work

GAO-10-342R: Published: Feb 22, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 22, 2010.

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Kay E. Brown
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With poverty rates and unemployment on the rise, the federal system of income, employment, and family supports has become increasingly important to a growing number of Americans. Due to their higher rates of poverty, certain minority groups are more likely than their nonminority counterparts to be represented in these programs and ancillary programs that serve low-income workers and families. The health of these programs is, therefore, especially important to these groups. In addition, because African-American children are more likely than other children to be raised in single-parent households, child support enforcement and programs that promote greater paternal involvement are particularly relevant for African-American families. Due to interest in the support provided to low-income individuals, and African-Americans in particular, Congress asked us to summarize GAO reports on programs and policies supporting low-income workers and families through (1) income supports, (2) worker training, (3) programs involving fathers, and (4) care and protection of children.

The percent of Americans living in poverty has been on an upward trajectory in recent years, with 13.2 percent of Americans living below the federal poverty line (e.g., $17,163 for a family of three) in 2008 up from 11.3 percent in 2000, according to Census data, and rates have been higher for certain minority groups. African-Americans and Hispanics both had poverty rates almost twice that of the national average at 24.7 and 23.2 percent, respectively. Children also experienced high poverty rates. In 2008, 19 percent of children under 18 lived in poverty, and nearly 30 percent of children living in a family headed by a single mother fell under the poverty line. Those living in poverty face an increased risk of adverse outcomes, such as poor health and low educational attainment. These outcomes, in turn, limit individuals' development of the skills, abilities, and knowledge necessary to fully participate in the labor force and ultimately become self-sufficient. Over the past decade and a half, Congress has made significant changes to the federal system of support for low-income families and individuals. These changes have provided states greater authority and flexibility in how they use funds to design program benefits and service delivery. The variability in program implementation by state and local governments heightens the importance of understanding policy choices and practices at these levels, as well as the federal level, in order to describe the nation's current support system for low-income families. GAO has accordingly produced numerous reports on issues related to supports for low-income families and individuals. Topics of these prior reports include (1) strategies aimed at increasing the incomes of welfare recipients; (2) how worker training programs are addressing the needs of low-income families; (3) implementation of the largest-ever federal marriage and fatherhood program; and (4) the availability of subsidized child care for low-income families.

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