The Great Recession has led to record job losses, persistently high rates of unemployment, and lower earnings for many households, all of which have led to increased poverty. A number of public and private sources of support may help low-income families cope with the effects of the recession. Cash and in-kind safety net programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), public health insurance programs, such as Medicaid, and Unemployment Insurance (UI) delivered more than $300 billion in benefits to tens of millions of low-income households in 2009.
In addition, private charitable nonprofit organizations and informal private social support provide assistance both to households that receive public benefits and to those not eligible for public benefits. Private supports help families cope with job loss, diminished earnings, and related hardships. Some nonprofit charities provide programs that address barriers to employment and promote greater self-sufficiency, including job search, education and skill development, literacy, housing assistance, emergency cash, temporary food assistance, and health-related services. Similarly, families, friends, and social networks often provide informal social support for finding a job, paying bills, addressing food or shelter needs, childcare, or otherwise reducing hardship.
Although some public programs such as SNAP, UI and Medicaid have greatly expanded caseloads and expenditures in response to rising need following the Great Recession, few studies have explored how low-income families have drawn on help from both formal and informal sources of private social support during this period.
This policy brief examines the sources of support received by households with children and with income near or below the federal poverty line in the Detroit Metropolitan Area during the wake of the Great Recession. We compare use of public and private programs by race and by respondents’ experiences of unemployment during the prior year. We focus on supports potentially available to low-income families through public programs, assistance from charitable nonprofits, and informal sources of private support. Roughly three-quarters of poor and near-poor households with children in the Detroit Metropolitan Area have received some type of public safety net benefit in the previous year and a comparable share reported drawing upon private sources of support during that time. Slightly more than half of all low-income households combined public and private sources. Receipt of public and private sources of support is most prevalent among households with respondents experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment. (author abstract)