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Is WIC Reaching Those in Need? Children’s Participation in Nutritional Policy during the Great Recession

For the roughly 20 percent of American children living in poverty and food insecure households, nutritional policy provides an essential safety net against hunger and its negative effects on development. Though it is established that more mothers and children enrolled in the nutritional safety net during the Great Recession, it is unclear whether this increase was experienced equally by all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Using longitudinal data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), we examine whether exposure to the early childhood nutritional safety net has remained steady or increased as economic need increased during the Great Recession. Specifically, we examine the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which increases access to nutritious food from the prenatal period until the time of school entry. Two questions drive the analysis: (1) Did participation in WIC increase between 2004 and 2013 for children in all age groups: in utero, infants, and ages 1–5?; and (2) Have these increases been experienced equally across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups? Preliminary findings suggest that age differences in participation remain pronounced, with infants more likely than older children, and especially the in utero population, to receive exposure to WIC. Differences between non-Hispanic whites and others declined in all age groups, driven by increasing participation among non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics. Socioeconomic differences in participation also declined, largely because of increasing participation among children in higher-educated and higher-income families. These findings suggest that, during the recession, socioeconomic status became a weaker predictor of WIC participation.


Child Development & Well-Being, Child Poverty, Children, Food & Nutrition, Food Assistance, Food Insecurity


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