Those in the bottom 20 percent of households had 2.3 percent of all market income, such as wages and private pensions, but received more than a third of all Social Security and Medicare benefits and almost half of other transfers like Medicaid and unemployment compensation. The effect of these programs is to quadruple the share of post-tax and transfer income going to those in the lowest quintile.
New data from the Census Bureau show that a rising share of Americans benefits from government transfer programs. Between the fourth quarter of 2008 and the fourth quarter of 2011, the percentage of Americans participating in transfer programs rose to 49.2 percent from 45.3 percent. Key drivers were a 40 percent increase in the number of people receiving food stamps in what is now called the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, and a 14 percent increase in those receiving Medicaid, a health program for the poor.