ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editor’s Pick 2017: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

Decline in WIC participation persists

Friday, March 16, 2018

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5. In fiscal 2017, the program served an average of 7.3 million people per month, down 21 percent from its peak in fiscal 2010. For the 7th consecutive year, participation for all three major groups fell. The number of women, infants, and children participating in WIC each fell by 5-6 percent. Improving economic conditions in recent years have likely played a role in the participation decline. Since applicants must have incomes at or below 185 percent of poverty or participate in certain other assistance programs to be eligible, the number of people eligible for WIC is closely linked to the health of the U.S. economy. Falling WIC caseloads may also reflect the decline in the number of U.S. births. Since 2007, the number of births have fallen each year except in 2014. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2017 Annual Report, released on March 15, 2018.

WIC participation continues to fall

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5. In fiscal 2016, the program served an average of 7.7 million people per month, down 16 percent from its peak in fiscal 2010. For the 6th consecutive year, participation for all three major groups fell. The number of women and children receiving WIC assistance each fell by 4 percent in fiscal 2016, and the number of infants dropped by 3 percent. Improving economic conditions in recent years have likely played a role in the participation decline. Since applicants must have incomes at or below 185 percent of poverty or participate in certain other assistance programs to be eligible, the number of people eligible for WIC is closely linked to the health of the U.S. economy. Falling WIC caseloads may also reflect the decline in the number of U.S. births. During 2008-15, the number of births fell each year except in 2014. This chart appears in "WIC Participation Continues to Decline" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, June 2017.

WIC households favor supercenters for their primary grocery shopping

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Data from a new USDA-funded survey, National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), show that households that participate in USDA?s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are more likely to use supercenters for their primary food shopping than non-WIC comparison households (non-participating households that contain either a pregnant woman or a child under the age of 5). Over half of WIC households (52 percent) used a supercenter for their main food shopping, compared with 45 percent of non-WIC comparison households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold and 41 percent of higher-income non-WIC comparison households. Because WIC households are larger and more likely to contain multiple young children compared with non-WIC comparison households, WIC households may be more enticed to shop at supercenters in order to purchase larger-sized products or take advantage of one-stop shopping. This chart appears in ?Most U.S. Households Do Their Main Grocery Shopping at Supermarkets and Supercenters Regardless of Income? in the August 2015 issue of ERS?s Amber Waves magazine.

Redemption rates of WIC benefits at large stores differs across States

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

In fiscal 2015, 8 million women, infants, and children under age 5 participated in USDA?s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Participants in 48 States and the District of Columbia received paper vouchers or electronic benefit cards redeemable at authorized retail stores for a set of nutrient-rich supplemental foods. WIC participants in Mississippi pick up their WIC foods at distribution centers, and prior to 2016, Vermont participants had their WIC foods delivered to their homes. Using two USDA administrative data sources, a recent ERS report found that over three-fourths of the WIC benefits redeemed in stores in fiscal 2012 were redeemed at large stores (supercenters, supermarkets, and large grocery stores), ranging from 50 percent in California to 99 percent in Nevada. Large stores accounted for 91 percent or more of WIC retail redemptions in 17 States and 81-90 percent in 13 States.? Other types of stores, such as medium and small grocery stores and WIC-only stores, account for a sizable share of WIC redemptions in some States. This chart appears in ?States Differ in the Distribution of WIC Benefits Across Types of Retail Food Stores? in the August 2016 issue of ERS?s Amber Waves magazine.

Just over two-thirds of WIC participants in 2014 had incomes below poverty

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants, and children younger than 5. In fiscal 2015, an average of about 8 million people per month participated in the program. Income eligibility for USDA’s WIC program is capped at 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. Among those participating in WIC in April 2014, 67.4 percent had incomes at or below poverty continuing the trend of increasing share of WIC participants with incomes at or below poverty which began in 2000. Slightly more than 1 percent of those participating in WIC in April 2014 had incomes greater than 185 percent of the Federal poverty level—similar to the shares since 2004. These individuals likely represent applicants who, because of their participation in Medicaid, automatically met income eligibility for WIC. In some States, the Medicaid income cutoff is higher than 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. This chart appears in the WIC Program topic page on the ERS website, updated March 16, 2016.

The WIC brand of infant formula varies by State

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides participating infants with free infant formula. WIC is the major purchaser of infant formula in the United States; over half of all formula is purchased with WIC benefits. To reduce costs, WIC State agencies (except Mississippi and Vermont, which use a competitive solicitation process) are required to have competitively bid rebate contracts with formula manufacturers. Contracts are awarded to the manufacturer offering the lowest net price for formula (wholesale price minus the rebate). The winning manufacturer gets an exclusive contract—typically lasting about 4 years—to provide its infant formula to WIC participants in the State. In some instances, WIC State agencies have formed multi-State alliances and jointly request rebate bids. Since the mid-1990s, only three formula manufacturers—Abbott, Gerber, and Mead Johnson—have bid on WIC contracts. For contracts in effect in March 2015, Abbott was the WIC brand in 23 States and the District of Columbia, Gerber in 9 States, and Mead Johnson in 18 States. This chart updates information in the ERS report, Manufacturers’ Bids for WIC Infant Formula Rebate Contracts, 2003-2013, EIB-142, July 2015.

Participation in USDA's WIC program fell for the fourth consecutive year in 2014

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5. In fiscal 2014, an average 8.3 million people per month participated in the program, 5 percent fewer than the previous year. This was the largest 1-year decrease since the program’s inception in 1974. Since peaking in fiscal 2010, the number of participants has decreased by almost 10 percent. Falling WIC caseloads reflect the continued decline in the number of U.S. births, which began in 2008. In 2013 (latest data available), 3.9 million babies were born in the United States, down from 4.3 million in 2007. Fewer births reduce the potential pool of WIC-eligible participants. Improving economic conditions in recent years may have also played a role in the decline in participation. This chart appears in “WIC Experienced Largest Decrease in Participation in Program’s History in 2014” in the June 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Effects of the WIC program extend beyond its participants

Monday, April 13, 2015

Each month, USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, health care referrals, and nutrition education to over 8 million low-income, nutritionally at-risk women, infants, and preschool children. In 2012, just over half of all infants in the United States, and over a quarter of all pregnant and postpartum women and children younger than 5, participated in the program, representing a potentially lucrative market for manufacturers of some WIC-approved foods, such as cereals. WIC requires that all breakfast cereals provided through the program be fortified with iron and contain no more than 6 grams of sugars per dry ounce. In response to these requirements, some cereal manufacturers formulated (or reformulated) their products to meet WIC standards. Because these products can also be consumed by non-WIC individuals, WIC may impact the diet quality of all children and adults who eat WIC-approved breakfast cereals, not just participants. This chart is from “Painting a More Complete Picture of WIC: How WIC Impacts Nonparticipants” in the April 2015 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

U.S. food shoppers do not usually shop at the closest grocery store

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A new survey funded by USDA, the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (or FoodAPS), asked the main food shopper of the household where they did most of their food shopping. Researchers compared the distance to this store to the distance to the nearest supermarket or supercenter authorized to accept benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-SM/SC). Researchers found that on average, all households—those receiving food assistance and those not—bypass the SNAP-SM/SC closest to their home to shop at another store, which may or may not be SNAP authorized, for their main grocery purchases. The average SNAP participant lived 1.96 miles from the nearest SNAP-SM/SC, but traveled 3.36 miles to their primary store for food shopping. WIC-participating households were 1.92 miles from the nearest SNAP-SM/SC, but traveled 3.15 miles to do their main grocery shopping. Non-poor households traveled 3.98 miles, while the closest SNAP-SM/SC was 2.21 miles from their home. Store proximity may be important, but price, quality, and selection also affect where households shop. In addition, households may food shop on their way home from work or other activities. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS report, Where Do Americans Usually Shop for Food and How Do They Travel to Get There?, released on March 23, 2015.

Southern States generally have a higher share of infants participating in WIC

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and referrals to health care and other social services to eligible low-income women, infants, and preschool children. In fiscal 2014, WIC served an average of 8.3 million people each month, including almost 2 million infants. State level data from fiscal 2012 reveal that on average, about 51 percent of all infants in the United States participated in the program. The share of infants that participated in the program varied by State, ranging from a low of 30 percent in Utah to a high of 67 percent in Mississippi. In six States (Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Alabama)—all located in the southeastern United States—over 60 percent of all infants participated in WIC. Economic conditions impact both the percent of infants eligible to participate and the percent of eligible infants enrolled in the program. Participants in WIC must meet maximum income guidelines. A State with a more robust economy is more likely to have fewer residents who qualify for WIC. The statistics for this map can be found in the ERS report, The WIC Program: Background, Trends, and Economic Issues, 2015 Edition, January 2015.

Share of WIC participants with incomes at or below poverty has increased since 2000

Friday, January 30, 2015

Income eligibility for USDA’s WIC program is capped at 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. Applicants who demonstrate current eligibility for Medicaid automatically meet income eligibility for WIC and do not have to document their incomes when they apply for WIC. With a large and increasing share of WIC applicants reporting participation in Medicaid at the time of WIC certification (73 percent in 2012, up from 66 percent in 2010), there has been concern that if States continue to raise their Medicaid income cutoffs to greater than 185 percent of the Federal poverty level this might result in WIC serving a larger share of participants with incomes above the intended cap. However, that has not happened. The share of WIC participants with incomes at or below poverty has been steadily increasing since 2000. The share of WIC participants with incomes at or below 50 percent of the poverty line has increased from 26.5 percent to 33.4 percent in 2012, and the share with incomes between 51-100 percent has grown from 29.1 percent to 33.2 percent in 2012. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, The WIC Program: Background, Tends, and Economic Issues, 2015 Edition, released January 27, 2015.

Prices for WIC foods in California are higher at smaller stores

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

In fiscal 2013, USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) served an average of 8.7 million low-income participants per month, with expenditures totaling $6.4 billion. Containing program costs is a continual issue because WIC is funded annually by Congressional appropriations, making the program’s capacity largely dependent on funding levels and costs per participant. In turn, costs per participant depend in part on the prices charged for the WIC foods by WIC-authorized retailers. States are required to authorize an appropriate number and distribution of retailers to ensure adequate participant access to supplemental foods. A recent study found that smaller retailers in California charge higher prices than larger retailers for comparable WIC foods. However, prices did not decrease steadily with increases in store size. Stores with three or four check out registers had lower prices than did the smallest stores, and prices dropped again for stores with five or six registers, but prices were comparable among all stores with at least five registers. This chart is from “WIC Foods Cost More in Smaller Stores” in the September 2014 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Children 1-4 years old account for just over half of WIC participants

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as the WIC program, provides low-income women, infants, and children younger than 5 who are at nutritional risk, with specific types of supplemental foods, along with nutrition education and health care referrals. As USDA’s third-largest food and nutrition assistance program, WIC served 8.7 million participants per month in fiscal 2013, and Federal expenditures for the program were nearly $6.5 billion. In April 2012, 53 percent of WIC participants were children ages 1-4 years, a small increase from their 50-percent share in the early 1990s. Women and infants each made up a little less than a quarter of WIC participants. This chart appears in the WIC Program topic page on ERS’s website, updated July 10, 2014.

Infant formula costs decreased in 20 of 22 WIC contracts awarded after 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is USDA’s third largest food and nutrition assistance program, with fiscal year 2013 expenditures totaling $6.4 billion. To reduce costs, WIC State agencies enter into cost-containment contracts with infant formula manufacturers. Typically, a manufacturer gives the State agency a rebate for each can of formula purchased through the program, in exchange for the exclusive right to have its formula provided to WIC participants in the State. Contracts are awarded to the manufacturer offering the lowest net price (the manufacturer’s wholesale price minus the rebate). A recent ERS study found that among the 46 WIC State agencies that awarded new rebate contracts after December 2008, nearly all paid lower real net prices under the new contracts. Real net prices decreased by an average 43 percent—or 23 cents per 26 reconstituted fluid ounces—resulting in total annual savings of $107 million (holding retail markups constant). This chart appears in “Infant Formula Costs to the WIC Program Fall” in ERS’s March 2014 Amber Waves magazine.

Nutrition programs projected to account for 80 percent of outlays under the Agricultural Act of 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The new U.S. farm bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed on February 7, 2014 and will remain in force through 2018. The 2014 Act makes major changes in commodity programs, adds new crop insurance options, streamlines conservation programs, modifies provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and expands programs for specialty crops, organic farmers, bioenergy, rural development, and beginning farmers and ranchers. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that 80 percent of outlays under the 2014 Farm Act will fund nutrition programs, 8 percent will fund crop insurance programs, 6 percent will fund conservation programs, 5 percent will fund commodity programs, and the remaining 1 percent will fund all other programs, including trade, credit, rural development, research and extension, forestry, energy, horticulture, and miscellaneous programs. Find this chart and additional information on the new U.S. farm bill on the Farm Bill Resources pages.

Fewer women, infants, and children are participating in USDA's WIC program

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides eligible low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 with free supplemental foods, nutrition education, and health care referrals. In fiscal 2013, an average of 8.7 million people per month participated in the program—3 percent less than the previous year and the largest 1-year decrease since the program began in 1974. Reflecting the continued decrease in U.S. births that began in 2008, the number of infants and women in the program each fell by 2 percent, and the number of children fell by 4 percent. This marked the third consecutive year—and only the third time in the program’s history—that participation for all three groups fell. Fiscal 2013 spending on the program totaled $6.4 billion—a 6-percent decrease from the previous fiscal year. This chart appears in ERS’s The Food Assistance Landscape, FY 2013 Annual Report released on February 20, 2014.

WIC program benefits from large rebates on infant formula

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides eligible low-income women, infants, and children with supplemental foods, nutrition education, and referrals for health care and other social services. Fiscal year 2013 expenditures for WIC totaled $6.4 billion and 8.7 million individuals (including 2 million infants) were served. To reduce costs, Federal law requires that WIC State agencies enter into cost-containment contracts with infant formula manufacturers. Typically, a manufacturer is given the exclusive right to provide its formula to WIC participants in the State in exchange for a rebate for each can of formula purchased through the program. These rebates are large; for milk-based powder—the predominant type of formula used in WIC—the average rebate was 92 percent of the manufacturer’s wholesale price for contracts in place in February 2013. Twenty States and the District of Columbia received rebates of 95 percent or more. The statistics in this chart are from the ERS report, Trends in Infant Formula Rebate Contracts: Implications for the WIC Program, December 2013.

Number of WIC participants fell in 2011 and program costs rose

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Federal spending for USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) totaled $7.2 billion in fiscal 2011-8 percent more than in the previous year. WIC helps safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, and infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk, by providing a package of supplemental foods, nutrition education, and health care referrals. Fifty-three percent of 2011 participants were children, 23 percent were infants, and 23 percent were women. Reflecting the continued decline in U.S. births in recent years, participation by all three groups decreased by 2 to 3 percent in fiscal 2011. The decrease in the number of participants was more than offset by a 13-percent increase in per person food costs. This chart appears in The Food Assistance Landscape, FY 2011 Annual Report, EIB-93, March 2012.

Rebates allow more people to participate in WIC

Monday, September 12, 2011

USDA's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is the largest purchaser of infant formula in the U.S. Each State awards a sole-source contract to a formula manufacturer to provide its product to WIC participants. In exchange, the manufacturer provides the State with a large rebate (averaging about 85 percent of the wholesale price) for each can of formula purchased through the program. In fiscal year 2009, WIC received $1.9 billion in rebates from formula manufacturers, supporting almost 25 percent of the WIC caseload that year. This chart is from the September 2011 issue of Amber Waves magazine.

Number of infants and women participating in WIC falls

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) helps safeguard the health of low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk, by providing a package of supplemental foods, nutrition education, and health care referrals. During fiscal 2010, spending for WIC totaled $6.8 billion or 4 percent more than in fiscal 2009. An average 9.2 million people per month participated in the program, or 1 percent more than in the previous fiscal year. The number of children participating increased 3 percent, while the number of women and infants each decreased 2 percent from the previous year, reflecting the decrease in U.S. births in 2009. Monthly per person food costs averaged $41.55 after rebates or 2 percent less than the previous fiscal year. This chart was originally published in The Food Assistance Landscape, FY 2010, EIB-6-8, March 2011.

Charts of Note header image for left nav