Committee on Economic Security (CES)

"Social Security In America"

Part III




Chapter XIII



AID to dependent children, also known as mothers' aid, mothers' pensions, and mothers' assistance, is designed for a group of families deprived of a father's support by death, desertion, or other reasons defined by the laws of the various States, and requiring care planned on a long-time basis, the assistance to be given in the form of a definite grant. Such assistance is authorized by the laws of 45 States, but is actually granted by less than half the local units empowered to provide this form of care.{1} Intended to afford the essentials for family life and the upbringing of children, mothers' aid, if well administered, relieves not only the insecurity but also the sense of dependency and inadequacy from which those receiving general relief often suffer. Experience shows that this security and the assistance given to the mother in meeting the problems of family life and child-rearing are important influences in preventing juvenile delinquency and other social difficulties.


The purpose of legislation for aid to dependent children has been to prevent the disruption of families on the ground of poverty alone and to enable the mother to stay at home and devote herself to housekeeping and the care of her children, releasing her from the inadequacies of the old type of poor relief and the uncertainties of private charity. The assurance of a definite amount of aid, not subject to change from week to week or month to month unless conditions in the family change, is one of the chief advantages of this form of assistance. The enactment of laws for aid to dependent children was evidence of public recognition of the fact that long-time care must be provided for those children whose fathers are dead, are incapacitated, or have deserted their families; that security at home is an essential part of a program for such care; and that this security

{1}Information as of 1934.


can be provided for this whole group of children only by public provision for care in their own homes.

This program was accepted promptly in State after State because experience had shown that unless the mother who was left with young children to support belonged to the highly skilled or professional group her contribution in the home was greater than her earnings outside the home. Before the adoption of these laws it frequently and even usually happened that either her children were taken from her and cared for at greater cost in institutions or foster homes, or she was encouraged to make the attempt to be both homemaker and wage earner, with the result in such cases that the home was broken up after she had failed in her dual capacity and the children had become delinquent or seriously neglected.

Although legislative approval of this principle has been given by nearly all the States, in many States a large proportion of the counties have not provided the benefits which the laws contemplated. This is explained by the fact that (1) the majority of these statutes, unlike most of the recently enacted old-age assistance laws, were permissive rather than mandatory, and in all but a few States the costs were borne entirely by the county or town, with the result that in many counties grants were never made or were inadequate in amount (see table 55, p. 245) ; and (2) the numbers of dependent children have greatly increased during the depression, because mare widowed mothers have been left without sufficient funds to care for their children, and no commensurate expansion of public funds for this type of care has occurred.

State laws for aid to dependent children were intended to afford assistance to families without male breadwinners, and all such laws apply to children of widows. In the laws and in administrative practice great variation is found in the definitions of persons eligible for aid-variations with respect to marital status of the mother, residence and citizenship, ages of children, and other items. In practice, in 1931, 82 percent of the families receiving aid to dependent children for which marital status was ascertained were families of widows. Information available in 1934 shows that in 36 States, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Hawaii aid may be extended to mothers whose husbands have deserted (frequently granted only, under specified conditions as to attempts to secure support and as to duration of the father's desertion) and in 21 States, the District of Columbia, ,and Alaska, to divorced mothers. The laws of these 21 States, the District of Columbia, and Alaska are very liberal, permitting aid to any mother with dependent children, or to a dependent family in which the father is dead, divorced, physically or mentally incapacitated, imprisoned, or where he has


deserted his family. According to 1934 information, in 29 States, the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Puerto Rico aid may be granted for children up to 16 years of age, and in 2 States for children up to 17 or 18 years. Table 49 shows the conditions under which aid may be granted.



Legislative authorization for public aid to mothers with dependent children has been provided by all the States except Alabama, {2} Georgia, and South Carolina, by the Territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and by Puerto Rico. Alabama has authorized home care of dependent children under a law comparable to poor relief. Information obtained in 1934 indicates that, although authorized by law, aid to dependent children was not granted anywhere in Arkansas, Mississippi, or New Mexico.

Except in New England, where the local administrative unit is the city or town, the county is the local unit responsible for granting aid to dependent children. Information obtained by the. Children's Bureau in 1931 indicated that of the 2,723 counties in the United States authorized to give this form of aid, 1,490 (55 percent) were actually doing so, and in 1934 reports received from 25 States indicated that at least 171 counties in these States had discontinued aid. It is probable that less than half the counties with legal authority to aid dependent fatherless children in their own

{2} Alabama in 1935 enacted a law providing aid to dependent children that is comparable to the laws previously enacted in other States for this purpose.


homes in 1934 were actually giving aid. Table 50 shows the information available on the extent to which aid to dependent children is provided in the United States. The great diversity in the present, coverage of various State laws is illustrated by the fact that the percentage of counties within a State granting aid ranges from less than 1 percent to 100 percent, and the per-capita expenditures within a State range from less than one-half of 1 cent per capita to 93 cents. The total local and State expenditures now being made under statutes for aid to dependent children, about $37,500,000, not only fail to reach more than half of the counties authorized to grant aid, but in many instances afford a very small amount of aid per family. For example, the average amounts actually granted in 1933 or 1934 ranged from about $9 per month per family to about $51 per month per family, although the laws permitted much more, as is shown in table 49.



It is estimated, on the basis of information obtained by the Children's Bureau through a Nation-wide survey in 1931 and supplementary information obtained in 1933 and 1934 through State


departments of welfare, that on November 15, 1934, approximately 109,000 families were receiving benefits under laws for aid to dependent children. The number of children benefiting from this form of aid is estimated as 280,500. (See table 51.)

Fifty-one percent of the estimated number of families receiving aid under State laws were living in cities of 50,000 population or more or in counties containing such cities, the number of families being approximately 55,500 in these urban areas and 53,500 in other areas. From reports available in November 1934 it was estimated that 32,476 such families (about 30 percent of the total group) lived in nine large cities,{3} 18,723 of them in New York.


The estimated number of families and children receiving aid to dependent children in each State, according to reports received in 1933 or 1934, is shown in table 51. New York State, with 23,493 families receiving aid, is the only State in which the number reached or exceeded 10,000. In 6 States less than 200 families were aided: Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

{3} Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Loa Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.


Great variation existed among the States, and in the different counties in the same States, in the extent to which aid to dependent children, even prior to the depression, was reaching all families which would be eligible under a fairly liberal law. For the United States as a whole, in 1931 the average number of families aided per 10,000 population, in areas granting aid to dependent children, was 10, and the number of children, 28. This ratio of families aided ranged from 1 in Maryland to 24 in Wisconsin. The median State, Maine, had a rate of 8. If aid to dependent children had been provided as extensively throughout the country as in Wisconsin, approximately 295,000 families would have been receiving aid in 1931, or nearly three times the estimated number actually receiving aid.

Monthly figures obtained by the Children's Bureau for 93 cities and city areas show trends from 1929 to 1934 in the monthly average number of families receiving aid to dependent children in each year. From 1929 to 1934 the increase was 41 percent.

Year Monthly average number of families













The 1930 census showed 37,192,902 families with female heads, of whom 2,534,630 were widowed (table 52). In 1,055,053 of these families with widowed mothers there were children under the age of 21, and in 431,424 families, children under the age of 10 years. The families with children under the age of 21 years were distributed as follows: 1 child, 447,209; 2 children, 267,502; 3 or more children, 340,342.

These families of widows would be given primary consideration in broad plans for survivors' insurance or insurance for widows and orphans. Whether or not such plans are developed and adopted, many families deprived of a male head will require public support if their home life is to be maintained on a basis necessary for the rearing of children. Expansion of systems of aid to dependent children, already adopted by nearly all the States, is immediately feasible as a method of providing for the needy group.

It is impossible without detailed case investigations to determine accurately how many families receiving emergency relief are technically eligible under laws for aid to dependent children, and further, how many would be found to measure up to policies established with


reference to the character of the mother and her competency to give proper care to her children. Some agencies administering aid to dependent children, in order to limit the number granted aid to those who can be cared for with some degree of adequacy, have adopted policies of excluding certain groups, mainly women with only one dependent child. General testimony of those responsible for administration of aid to dependent children and relief is to the effect that


curtailed State or local appropriations for aid to dependent children or failure to expand such appropriations commensurately with increasing need forces many mothers and children legally eligible for aid to apply for emergency relief or the old type of poor relief. In some States, because the pre-depression standards were on the pauper level, this has meant a continuation of insecurity and inadequate care for the children, and in others it has meant a loss of the security which the pension system gave or should have given.

The study of occupational characteristics of relief families in 79 cities, representing all the main geographic divisions, made by the


Federal Emergency Relief Administration for the period May 1934 included information as to the number of relief households {4} with female heads, the marital status of the women, and the number of dependents under 16 years of age. Tabulation of a representative 5-percent sample of the returns affords a basis for estimating the proportion of urban relief households (living in towns of 2,500 population and over) with dependents under 16 years of age, headed by women who were widowed, separated, or divorced-a group roughly comparable to the group being aided by laws for aid to dependent children. Studies of 61 rural counties in problem areas and the unemployment relief census of October 1933 also affords a basis for estimating roughly the prevalence of this type of family on rural relief rolls. The ratios prevailing in the samples have been applied by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to the August 1934 relief population. The estimates are, of course, very crude, but they afford some indication of the extent to which emergency relief provided for fatherless families and children.

On the basis of these figures it is estimated that 358,000 households comprising a widowed, separated, or divorced woman and one or more dependent children under the age of 16 years were receiving emergency relief in August 1934. The number of children under the age of 16 years in these households was estimated to be approximately 719,000. In urban areas 8.8 percent and in rural areas 10 percent of all relief cases were cases of this type, according to the samples tabulated.

The estimated urban and rural distribution of relief households with dependent children, whose heads were widowed, separated, or divorced women, was as follows

  Estimated number of families Estimated number of children
United States 358,000 719,000
Urban areas 260,000 494,000
Rural areas 98,000 225,000

The estimated number of relief households whose composition is similar to that of families eligible for aid to dependent children is nearly three and one-half times as large as the estimated number of families receiving aid to dependent children under State laws, and the estimated number of children in the former group is over two and one-half times the number benefiting from aid to dependent children. To recapitulate, 109,000 families with 280,500 children were receiving aid to dependent children, and 358,000 similar households with 719,500 children were receiving emergency relief.

{4} A relief household may consist of one or more blood families. The occupational characteristics study, however, showed that 94 percent of the relief households consisted of single families.


Studies in certain States bear out the findings of the urban and rural studies made by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, to the effect that large numbers of families of the same general types as those receiving aid under State laws for aid to dependent children are on emergency relief rolls. In Florida a study made early in 1934 showed 2,564 families receiving aid to dependent children and 5,914 families of similar type receiving relief.{5} In a study made in the spring of 1934 in Cincinnati, Ohio, by the United States Children's Bureau, it was found that 478 families were receiving aid to dependent children and 2,153 families apparently eligible, under the law, for such aid were receiving emergency relief.{6}

The average number of children per family in families receiving aid to dependent children is 2.6; in urban relief cases of similar type, 1.9; and in the same type of rural relief cases, 2.3. On the basis of the 5-percent sample of the occupational characteristics study of urban relief cases, it is estimated that 49 percent of such families, headed by widowed, separated, or divorced mothers with dependent children, had only one dependent child under the age of 16 years. Such families often have been excluded from aid to dependent children under administrative policies, though never by law, on the theory that a woman ought to be able to support herself and one child--a theory that even in prosperous times frequently meant neglect of the child and inadequate income for mother and child. In periods of unemployment mothers with only one child find almost as great difficulty as other mothers in maintaining themselves and their children without assistance.

In 44 percent of the relief families included in this summary the mother was a widow (about half the proportion found among families receiving aid to dependent children in 1931), in 47 percent she was separated from her husband, and in 9 percent she was divorced. Seventy-two percent of the urban relief households of a type similar to families receiving aid to dependent children included in the sample of the occupational study had no members or only one member of the household working or seeking work (undoubtedly the mother in the great majority of cases). The mothers in these relief families were predominantly women with no established occupation (32 percent) or women who had been engaged in domestic or personal service (37 percent) or in semiskilled occupations (19 percent).

{5} Social Welfare in Florida, report of a survey by Emmta O. Lundberg (Publication No. 4, State Board of Public Welfare, Tallahassee, 1934), pp. 96, 106.

{6} "Children's Aid and Child Care in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Ohio (Cincinnati Bureau of Governmental Research, 1935), vol. IV, p. 2.


Only 12 percent of the women heads of relief families of the type under consideration were employed at nonrelief work. At the time of the study 81 percent of these relief households had no weekly earnings, being entirely dependent on relief, and 89 percent had no earnings or earnings of less than $5 per week. (See tables 53 and 54.)


A very rough estimate of the probable monthly relief expenditures for the families of widowed, separated, and divorced women with dependent children has been made by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. On the basis of this estimate the approximate monthly expenditure is $10,000,000, including $8,000,000 in urban and $2,000,000 in rural areas. This would mean an annual expenditure of $120,000,000, of which approximately three-fourths comes from Federal funds, if the general average proportion of Federal funds spent for relief during the last few months of 1934 were to prevail in this group.


TABLE 54.-Characteristics of households with widowed and separated or divorced women heads of relief families in urban areas with children under the age of 16 years, based on 5-percent sample study of occupational characteristics of relief families in 79 cities, May 1934 {1}





Number Percent distribution
Total households





Employment status:

None working or seeking work





1 working or seeking work





2 working or seeking work





3 working or seeking work





4 or more working or seeking work





Weekly earnings:

No earnings





Less than $5





$5, less than $10





$10 or more





Not reported





{1} Data supplied by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.


On the basis of figures compiled by the Children's Bureau in 1934, the annual expenditure for aid to dependent children by State and local governments approximates $37,500,000 (table 55). This represents an increase of about $3,600,000 over the amount reported in 1931, a figure, however, known to be incomplete.

Only $5,900,000 of the annual expenditure of $37,500,000 for aid to dependent children came from State funds, the remaining $31,600,000 coming from local governments, chiefly counties. In 1934, 16 States {7} had provided for State participation in financing grants for aid to dependent children, but the actual aid given had not always kept pace with the legislation adopted. Of these States Louisiana and New Mexico had never supplied such funds, and the appropriations in North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin had been far below the amounts needed in these States.

Approximately 44 percent of the total expenditure for aid to dependent children was made by nine large cities, spending more than $500,000 each, the same cities noted on p. 238. Of the $16,273,204 spent in these cities, $9,762,997 was expended by New York.

In 1930, 1931, and 1932 there were increases in total expenditures for aid to dependent children in 93 cities and city areas reporting to the Children's Bureau. A decrease in funds was reported for 1933.

{7} Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin. (In New Jersey the State bears the cost of administration.)


The expenditure for 1934 was slightly higher than the amount reported for 1933 but was considerably below the expenditure for 1932.

Year Amount expended in 93 cities and city areas
1929 $16,141,227
1930 17,360,107
1931 21,127,500
1932 23,176,033
1933 22,137,279
1934 22,719,933




The theory of the system of aid to dependent children is that the families will be given enough assistance to meet their minimum budgetary needs, without necessitating gainful employment for mothers of young children, which would be detrimental to home life. The more progressive laws permit aid according to family need, but the majority fix a maximum allowance per child and some laws set a limit on the sum. In 1934 it was found that the maximum grants specified in the laws would permit an allowance to a mother and three children ranging from $20 and less than $30 per month in seven States and Puerto Rico with the lowest amounts specified, to $60 and less than $70 per month in four States with the highest amounts specified. The average monthly aid granted per family ranged in 1933 or 1934 from $8.81 in Louisiana to $51.83 in Massachusetts and $60.14 in the District of Columbia.

Variations in the amount of monthly grants within a single State are sometimes greater than variations between States. For example; in Ohio in December 1933, 35 counties were granting aid averaging less than $10 per family, whereas in 5 counties grants averaged from $30 to $50. In one mining and "hill" county the average monthly grant was $2.63. Twenty-one counties in Illinois were granting an average of less than $10 per month per family.

Information obtained by the Children's Bureau in 1933 for 103 cities of 50,000 population or more showed average monthly grants per family of $60 to $65 in 6 cities and $50 to $60 in 13 cities. In 16 cities the average monthly grant per family was $40 to $50, and in 68 cities it was under $40.

Table 56 indicates the estimated average monthly grant per family in areas granting aid to dependent children, based on annual or monthly expenditures for grants during 1933 or 1934.


Experience under laws for aid to dependent children, most of which have provided for financing the system entirely through local tax funds, has demonstrated the need for a broader tax base. The necessity for assistance from State funds is now widely accepted. State equalization funds for education have been provided in many States, and a number of old-age assistance laws providing for some measure of State aid have been passed. Although in 1934, 16 States had authorized State contributions to grants for aid to dependent children, in at least 5 of them, as has been shown, no appropriation had been made or the State fund was too small to be of real assistance. Laws for aid to dependent children should be mandatory upon the local


units, and State equalization funds should be made available to counties for aid purposes, in amounts sufficient to bring this aid throughout the State at least to a minimum level of adequacy, both as to number of families aided and amount of grant. If well administered, State aid will act as an effective, powerful lever in raising administrative standards of investigations, budgetary practices, and other procedures.


The Committee on Dependency and Neglect, of the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, in its report on aid to dependent children, recommended with reference to State participation: (1) State supervision with an adequate staff of social workers to help the local units to organize for efficient work, to set and enforce minimum standards of aid and administration, and to raise standards by means of conferences, studies, and publications; (2) provision of State funds, distributed to the local units according to need, with the object of equalizing resources on the same principle which operates in distribution of educational funds in many States.{8}

Federal grants-in-aid can be extended to this tax-supported and publicly administered form of child care without unusual adminis-

{8} White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, Dependent and Neglected Children (D. Appleton-Century Co., New York, 1933), pp. 243-244.


trative difficulties. Through Federal participation laws for aid to dependent children can be made effective in the States and in local areas which have made no provision, or have markedly inadequate provision, for this method of preserving family life for dependent children. Like the State fund in relation to the counties, a Federal fund would be an instrument for improving standards in backward States and would tend to equalize costs.


Convincing evidence of the need for greatly increased provision for aid to dependent mothers with young children is afforded by figures compiled by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration showing the number of families on relief rolls who have been deprived of the support of the normal breadwinner through death, absence from the home, or physical or mental disability.

It is impossible to tell with any degree of accuracy what proportion of the entire number would be found eligible for aid to dependent children under the definitions in State laws, as the requirements for eligibility for the two types of relief are not alike. For example, in a number of States the families on emergency relief rolls for which reports are obtained by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration exclude those classified as "unemployable," as these are dealt with entirely by local agencies. Besides, as has been pointed out on pages 239-244, the families on emergency relief rolls include a smaller proportion of widows' families and of families with only one child than do the families in receipt of aid to dependent children.

For the sake of arriving at a very crude estimate, it may be assumed that half of the relief families headed by widowed, separated, or divorced women with dependent children under the age of 16 years would be found eligible for aid to dependent children without very marked modification of policies. On this basis emergency relief data indicate that approximately 179,000 families now receiving relief should be given long-time, regular assistance.

Adding the estimated number of families on emergency relief rolls who would probably be eligible for aid to dependent children under existing State laws, to the 109,000 families now receiving assistance under the system of aid to dependent children, gives a total of 288,000 families, or, for estimate purposes, a round number of 300,000.

The amount of aid needed to supply the necessities of life in rural communities is frequently less than the amount required in the large urban centers. If the percentage of rural families estimated to


prevail among fatherless families on relief rolls (27 percent) were found to apply for the whole group, the assumed 300,000 families eligible for aid to dependent children would include 81,000 rural and 219,000 urban families. A monthly grant averaging $40 for city areas and $20 for small towns, villages, and rural areas (sums below standards of adequacy but somewhat above present prevailing average grants) would require a total estimated expenditure of something over $120,000,000 per year. In the largest cities monthly averages of more than $40 would be required; in some of the smaller cities perhaps an average of less than $40 might be a reasonable grant under present circumstances, and in some rural areas a fairly small cash allowance might suffice. It must be borne in mind that these are averages and mask a possible wide range, depending on family needs and resources.

The Federal Government at the end of 1934 was probably spending approximately $45,000,000 yearly on families of widowed, separated, and divorced mothers on relief that might be assumed to be eligible for aid to dependent children, and the State and local governments were probably spending in the neighborhood of $15,000,000 for the same group. Local communities spent in addition about $31,600,000 yearly for aid to dependent children, and the States spent about $5,900,000. If local contributions for families receiving and eligible for aid to dependent children could be increased to $40,000,000 and the State contributions to the same figure, the Federal Government would need to supplement to the extent of $40,000,000 if a ratio of one-third Federal, one-third State, and one-third local contributions, which has been suggested, is to be maintained. This would mean an increase of about $28,000,000 in State and local contributions for assistance in these families. Obviously, State and local contributions cannot be brought up to the proposed figure immediately, nor can administrative responsibility for the families now receiving relief be transferred at once. Permanent planning for an equitable distribution of costs and for adequate State and local administration will require some time, and the shift from emergency relief to aid to dependent children must be somewhat gradual. A Federal grant of $25,000,000 per year for the first 2 years would seem to be a reasonable contribution, to be made under specified conditions as to State and local appropriations and other items. This grant might be increased to not more than $50,000,000 per year as the program develops to include all families eligible for aid to dependent children.