Individual and Family Social Services

SIC 8322

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This industry includes establishments primarily engaged in providing one or more of a wide variety of individual and family social, counseling, welfare, or referral services, including refugee, disaster, and temporary relief services. This industry includes offices of specialists providing counseling, referral, and other social services. Government offices directly concerned with the delivery of social services to individuals and families, such as issuing of welfare aid, rent supplements, food stamps, and eligibility casework, are included here, but central office administration of these programs is classified in SIC 9441: Administration of Social, Human Resource and Income Maintenance Programs.

Industry Snapshot

The services within this industry can be classified as either public assistance programs or social service programs. These include individual and family service establishments that provide counseling and social services such as refugee, disaster, and temporary relief. Also included are state and local offices that distribute welfare benefits. Some private and public agencies offer adult day care, home-delivered meals, homemaking services, and in-home nursing. Other programs concentrate on children and youth, such as big brother/big sister organizations and protective and adoption services. The industry covers crisis centers, self-help organizations, parole offices, and probation services. In the early 2010s, there were more than 135,750 individual and family services establishments in operation in the United States.

The shape of U.S. social services underwent a transformation in 1996 with the introduction of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which replaced the long-standing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). It was rebranded as the TANF Bureau within the Office of Family Assistance in May 2006. Welfare rolls dramatically declined, from 4.4 million AFDC families in August 1996 to 1.8 million families on TANF by 2011. TANF is the dominant provider of U.S. welfare services; its successes and failures directly affect the ongoing services of other support agencies. TANF was reauthorized in 2006 under the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. As of 2012 it was operating under an extension.

In the late 2000s, the worst economic depression since the 1930s pushed unemployment rates in the United States toward 10 percent. As a result, welfare rosters increased at the same time that many states were experiencing deep financial troubles. Consequently, providing services became increasingly difficult at both the federal and state level as the nation debated national health care and how best to jump-start a faltering economy.

Organization and Structure

Public welfare programs fall under one of three general categories: social insurance, public assistance, or social services. Funded by mandatory contributions from employers and employees, social insurance programs are designed to protect people who experience a sudden loss of income due to the disability, temporary unemployment, retirement, or death of a wage earner.

Public assistance programs are designed to help the financially needy with services commonly known as welfare, particularly through the TANF and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formally known as the Food Stamp program). Financed by federal, state, and local tax dollars, these programs provide benefits to people who show financial need and meet specific program qualifications.

Public social services were developed to meet needs through services such as counseling, day care, emergency youth shelters, alcohol and drug abuse services, and foster care. These programs are operated by state, county, and city governments, along with public and private agencies.

The availability of these services, as well as the sources for their funding, vary greatly. Some programs are open to everyone, while others are available for a fee. Some are accessible only to those already receiving assistance from other public assistance programs.

Federal Agencies.
Until the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which transferred public assistance programs from federal agencies to state jurisdiction, many locally administered individual and family social services were under the jurisdiction of both state and federal agencies. Several public welfare programs were under the direction of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including TANF, the largest social welfare program in the United States.

TANF is a bipartisan creation that encourages welfare recipients to find jobs and become self-sufficient, while at the same time promoting strong family units. In 2011 the program spent $17.8 billion in federal funds, which covers benefits, administrative expenses, and services. Individual states have a vast amount of power in determining their own programs, with the exception of a few federal mandates on eligibility. Under its original rules, recipients of aid must work after two years of assistance, families can only receive aid for five cumulative years, and food stamps can be received only for three consecutive months out of every 36. In 2011, combined federal and state funding of TANF totaled $33.3 billion.

Other Agencies.
More than 100,000 social service organizations operate at the state, county, and local levels. For decades, money from the private sector has made possible the activities and services of many of these groups. With the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, most public assistance programs were operated at state, county, and local government levels.

Background and Development

Social welfare in the United States began with the Social Security Act of 1935. The Great Depression, which brought on many economic events beginning with the 1929 stock market crash, led Americans to realize that unforeseen circumstances could lead anyone into poverty. The Social Security Act was established to circumvent this eventuality. The act provided protection against the loss of income due to old age, involuntary unemployment, and blindness; in 1956, it was amended to include disability. The act also established Aid to Dependent Children, a financial support program for children who had lost one or both parents.

The next major change in U.S. policy toward social welfare came during the 1960s and was known as the "War on Poverty." Precipitated by the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s, national social policy was changed during the 1960s to improve the standard of living for the poor. The federal government expanded existing programs such as AFDC and established new ones, such as the SNAP.

During the 1970s, the federal government attempted to improve management of and control over these public assistance programs. To eliminate variations of coverage among the states, uniform national standards were set for programs where the federal government and the states shared responsibility. Programs serving similar needs were consolidated into block grants to the states, in which federal money was strictly limited in return for increased discretion in state spending.

Realizing that the current welfare system had produced generations of recipients, state and federal governments began looking at welfare reform during the 1980s. President Reagan cut federally funded social spending by $20 billion in 1981. The Family Support Act of 1988 forced AFDC recipients into job training or education. However, by the 1990s, state governments, whose federal funding was slashed during the 1980s, looked at more drastic measures, such as cutting AFDC payments for mothers who had additional children while on welfare.

AFDC was a federally funded program that provided cash and non-cash services to families with needy children. Available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and Puerto Rico, AFDC aided children in families where need was brought by parental unemployment, disability, death, or continued absence. Financed by federal and state funds, payments usually were made directly to AFDC recipients. The federal government's share of AFDC payments was based on the need of each state. The government provided a higher percentage of federal matching funds to states with lower per capita incomes and a lower percentage to states with higher per capita incomes. The federal government also paid a certain percentage of costs related to program administration and training and the costs for acquiring and implementing management information systems. This public assistance program was later handled by individual state governments.

In August 1996, President Clinton made good on his 1992 presidential campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it," by passing the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, effectively replacing AFDC with TANF. The legislation ended the 61-year federal guarantee of aid to the poor and children, giving states broad power to design their own welfare programs, imposing limits and instituting requirements. President Clinton stated that the reform "gives us a chance we haven't had before, to break the cycle of dependency" that affects millions of Americans.

TANF supplies an annual block grant to states to run their own programs. A five-year lifetime limit on receiving welfare requires recipients to work within two years, and half of all welfare recipients would eventually have to be working 30 hours a week. States that already have welfare programs in place under federal waivers would not have to comply with some federal work rules. The bill allowed childless, able-bodied individuals ages 18 to 50 to receive food stamp benefits for only three months in any three-year period unless they were working part-time and undergoing job training. These people could receive food stamps for another three months in that time frame if they were laid off from a job.

From 1993 to 1998, welfare recipients decreased by more than 41 percent, which amounted to 5.7 million people. The number of recipients was reduced approximately 2 percent monthly. In fact, 1998 saw the lowest total number of welfare recipients (8.7 million) since 1970, the lowest number of families receiving aid (3.2 million) since 1972, and the lowest percentage of the population (3.2 percent) since 1968. In addition to the new legislation, these results were attributed to the nation's strong economy.

According to TANF's annual report for fiscal year 2003, state and federal spending totaled $26.3 billion, showing an increase from the previous year (up $926 million). Cash aid was reduced to 41 percent of combined TANF and State Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funds, compared to 43.6 percent in 2001. States spent 10.7 percent of funds on work activities and another 13.8 percent on child care, while 17 percent was transferred into the Child Care and Development Fund and Social Services Block Grant. During fiscal year 2002, TANF caseloads averaged 2 million per month. In 2006, a 56 percent decrease in caseloads nationwide was recorded.

The TANF law expired in October 2002 but continued to operate well into the late 2000s under an extension while Congress considered revisions and renewal. In mid-2005, changes under consideration included increasing the child care program by $6 billion to help support those moving into the workforce. Similarly, funding for transitional healthcare for those leaving welfare was an issue. Other issues included the creation of welfare programs to be operated by American Indian tribes and reforms to child support legislation. In 2006, TANF was reauthorized for five years. Under the terms of reauthorization, $16.6 billion annually was available to fund the program.

With unemployment rates rising toward 10 percent in the late 2000s and the number of unemployed and working poor increasing at the same time as many states saw their revenue sources dry up, finding funding for services became problematic in some regions of the country. Hardest hit was California, which found itself in a state of budgetary crisis and slashing numerous health and human services programs to cut costs. Other states particularly hard hit by skyrocketing unemployment or falling revenues included Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Georgia, and Florida. In April 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that TANF would receive up to $5 billion in additional emergency funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the stimulus package, designed to jump-start the U.S. economy. In May 2011, participation in SNAP reached a record high, as 45.7 million Americans were receiving food stamps.

Most agencies that were dependent on federal, state, local, and community support were either struggling or necessarily finding creative or innovative ways to fund their programs in the late 2000s. According to a 2009 D & B Marketing Solutions Report, there were 135,758 establishments providing individual and family services. Non-government firms employed nearly 1.4 million workers and generated almost $68 billion in revenues. Specialized services within this industry categorization included general and family counseling services (19 percent), senior citizens' centers (5 percent), adult day care centers (3 percent), and child related social services (3 percent).

Current Conditions

The social welfare industry remained a controversial topic in the United States into the 2010s, especially as the country sank deeper into debt. The national debt in May 2012 stood at around $15 trillion, with no forthcoming solutions to the problem evident. In the meantime, the federal government continued to raise the amount of funds granted to programs such as SNAP. According to the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, as of 12 April 2012, 44.7 million people were receiving food stamps to the tune of $75 billion. The amount spent on SNAP had more than quadrupled since 2000, when 17.1 million people were receiving $17 billion in funds. Also, although many states cut TANF funding in the early 2010s, state funds still accounted for almost half of the $33 billion spent on the program in fiscal 2011, when an average of 4.3 million Americans received monthly TANF checks.

A trend that many viewed as positive included the $4 million federal grant in 2012 that allowed vendors at farmers markets to purchase the electronic equipment necessary to accept food stamps from customers. About 1,500 U.S. farmers markets already had the technology, and the funding was intended to increase that figure. According to Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan in Western Farm Press, "This funding will help SNAP customers increase their opportunities to access healthy, local foods. And evidence suggests they will take advantage of that access." Indeed, use of food stamps at farmers markets had already increased 400 percent since 2008, according to the article.

Industry Leaders

Other than TANF, the largest programs in this industry are SNAP, disaster relief services, eldercare, adoption services, and self-help organizations.

Food Stamps.
Established by the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (originally known as the Food Stamp Program) was available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Virgin Islands. The Food Stamp Program assisted 28.4 million individuals in fiscal year 2008 at a cost of nearly $37.7 billion. Under this program, low-income individuals living in households meeting nationwide standards for income and assets might receive food coupons redeemable at most grocery stores. As a result of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, the caseload for the Food Stamp Program was reduced dramatically. Although enrollment numbers decreased from 1998 and 2001, the number of recipients has been steadily increasing since 2001 to reach record highs of over 45 million in 2011. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administered the Food Stamp Program at the federal level through its Food and Consumer Service (FCS) department. State welfare agencies administered the program at the state and local levels.

Disaster Relief.
Founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, the American Red Cross responds to thousands of tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, fires, hazardous materials spills, transportation accidents, and other calamities that occur in the United States each year by providing emergency and disaster assistance through their trained paid and volunteer staff.

After a major disaster, the Red Cross supplies basic emergency shelter, food, medicine, and first aid to victims and distributes home clean-up items throughout affected areas. Red Cross disaster relief also includes feeding emergency workers; referring disaster victims to other available resources; handling inquiries from concerned family members outside the affected area; and supplying blood and blood products as well as disaster-related counseling to victims.

The Red Cross enables disaster victims to resume independent living by assisting with the payment for groceries, clothing, basic household items, medicine, temporary housing, emergency home repairs, transportation, and tools. The American Red Cross provides all of its disaster assistance at no cost to the victims.

The Red Cross also offers assistance when other resources, such as insurance benefits and government assistance, are unavailable or inadequate in meeting disaster-related needs. All Red Cross assistance is provided on an individual basis, based on verified disaster-caused needs, free of charge. American Red Cross chapters also work within their communities to help the public prepare for, prevent, and cope with disasters and emergency situations.

Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, marked the costliest disaster in the history of the American Red Cross, as well as the largest mobilization of relief workers. Ninety-five percent of the 233,000 relief workers for the 2005 hurricane season were volunteers. The cost of emergency assistance and recovery efforts was calculated at over $2.1 billion. Similarly, after the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the American Red Cross received over $1 billion in monetary and in-kind donations by June 30, 2002, the agency's fiscal year-end. Of that total, $618 million was spent during the year in support of September 11 victims and their families. Another nearly $420 million was left unspent at fiscal year-end but was earmarked for the Liberty Fund, set up to distribute donations to victims of the terrorist attacks.

According to demographers, population trends predicted that the needs of the rapidly growing elderly population would equal, if not exceed, the needs for child care. U.S. workers were left primarily to their own resources for finding care services for the elderly. Although numerous private and public agencies existed that provide eldercare, neither employers nor employees often knew where to get assistance. Coordinated efforts began between employers and social service providers, however, to address the needs of those with eldercare responsibilities.

One option for eldercare was senior citizen day care centers. A practical alternative to costly in-home care, day care centers provided social interaction and activities that improved the livelihood of the aged. According to the National Adult Day Services Association, 4,600 elderly day care centers existed in the United States in 2012, a 35 percent increase from 2002. Approximately 78 percent of adult day care centers operate on a nonprofit basis.

Adoption Services.
No one agency is charged with collecting data on adoptions and, therefore, data are not consistently collected. However, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, adoptions have remained relatively constant in the United States, between 118,000 to 127,000 since 1987. While kinship and private agency adoptions used to be the most common, public agency and inter-country adoptions make up more than half of adoptions. Public agency adoptions in 2000 and 2001 represented 40 percent of adoptions, compared to 18 percent in 1992. During the same period, inter-country adoptions grew from 5 percent to 15 percent. In 2010, Americans adopted 11,059 children from other countries.

Self-Help Organizations.
The self-help movement, which began in 1935 with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), has turned into a modern-day, low-cost alternative to expensive mental health services. Since self-help organizations have been inexpensive to operate, these popular organizations have appealed to lawmakers concerned with rising health care costs.

The AA formula of strict anonymity and a 12-step recovery program has proven to be quite successful. By 2011, some 56,694 AA chapters could be found in the United States with an estimated U.S. membership of over 1.2 million people. Worldwide, AA had more than 2 million members. Moreover, the National Self-Help Clearinghouse estimated that some 20 million Americans were estimated to have become involved in nonprofit self-help groups like AA.

Certain studies show that self-help membership was increasing annually. Growth may be attributed to the anonymous nature of these groups, although anonymity has made accurate counting impossible. Most self-help participants have been white, middle class baby boomers, but the movement itself has encompassed all kinds of Americans. Types of problems addressed include addiction, illness and disability, mental illness, bereavement, and lifestyles. The roster of groups includes Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Recovery Inc., Tourette Syndrome Association, Survivors of Suicide, and Single Mothers by Choice.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individual and family services employed 1.2 million workers in 2010. The average annual salary was $31,200. Management positions had a mean annual salary of $71.200, and chief executives averaged $131,950. Community and social service organization positions, such as substance abuse counselors, family therapists, and social workers, were paid a mean annual salary of $35,890.

Nearly 50 percent of all social service establishments have fewer than five employees. However, half of all workers have been employed by larger establishments, those with 50 employees or more. The industry also has employed a high percentage of older workers, 36 percent being 45 years old or older.

One-third of nongovernmental jobs in social services have been in service occupations, such as homemaker/home health aides, food preparation workers, nurses' aides, and child care or elderly care workers, according to the Department of Labor. These jobs usually have required little formal training in social services or an education beyond high school.

One-fourth of nongovernmental social service jobs have been professional specialty occupations, such as social workers, human services workers, adult education teachers, and counselors. These jobs usually have specific entrance requirements, similar to most professional specialty occupations. Some jobs required specific clinical knowledge, such as the duties of a licensed nurse.

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