During 2008, the percentage of households getting benefits like Medicaid and food stamps jumped from 23.2 percent in May to 24.7 percent in November as the recession deepened, the bureau's demographers reported. The most common benefits were Medicaid, going to 21.1 million households, free or reduced-price school meals, 11.5 million, and food stamps, 9.3 million.
More than half of the 28.2 million households getting means-tested benefits received two or more, demographers said. The most common combination was Medicaid and food stamps.
The two largest government benefit programs, Social Security and Medicare, are not means-tested and go to everyone eligible based on age and contributions regardless of income. In 2008 about 45 percent of U.S. residents lived in households where at least one person was receiving benefits that included Social Security and Medicare.
The information comes from the Economic Characteristics of Households: Third Quarter 2008.