In the average month of 2018, an estimated 11.9 million people were eligible to receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Of that group, 6.7 million people participated in the program, meaning the share of eligible people who participated in WIC (the coverage rate) was 57 percent.
In 2018, 1.7 million infants (45 percent of all infants in the United States) were eligible for WIC. Ninety-eight percent of eligible infants participated in the program, meaning their WIC benefits were received or picked up. (People who are enrolled but whose benefits are not received or picked up are not counted as participants.)
The number of children eligible for WIC at each age from age 1 through 4 is roughly equal—with 1.9 to 2.1 million children eligible at each single year of age—but coverage rates drop steadily as children get older, from 61 percent for 1-year-olds to 26 percent for 4-year-olds.
The coverage rate for pregnant women who are eligible for WIC (53 percent) is lower than for eligible postpartum women (84 percent).
From 2007 to 2018, infants and postpartum mothers have consistently had higher coverage rates than other groups.
The 2018 estimates are the latest in a series of WIC eligibility and coverage rates estimates produced for the Food and Nutrition Service. The estimates for years prior to 2016 are not completely consistent with the estimates for 2016 to 2018 because of changes to the underlying data sources (see the full report for more information). However, the estimates for the years prior to 2016 can be compared to each other, and the estimates for years 2016 through 2018 can be compared to each other.
Considering the earlier years, the WIC eligibility rate (the share of the total number of people in the demographic group who are eligible for WIC) generally increased over the period from 2007 to 2015. The WIC coverage rate (the share of eligible people who receive benefits) generally increased between 2007 and 2011, and then declined between 2012 and 2015.
More recently, between 2016 and 2018, the overall WIC eligibility rate declined from 48 percent in 2016 to 45 percent in 2018. The coverage rate declined between 2016 and 2017 (from 59 percent to 56 percent), and then increased slightly to 57 percent in 2018.
Changes in coverage rates across the years may be caused by changes in the number of people eligible for WIC, the number of people participating in WIC, or both. For pregnant women, the coverage rate declined from 57 percent in 2016 to 53 percent in 2018 because the number of participants declined to a greater degree than the number of pregnant women eligible for WIC.
The relative magnitude of coverage rates by participant category has remained consistent from 2007 to 2018. Across all years, coverage rates were highest for infants, followed by those for postpartum women and pregnant women. Coverage rates for children were consistently the lowest. Among children, coverage rates are consistently lower for older children than younger children; 4-year-olds have the lowest coverage rates.
In 2018, the people eligible for WIC included 4.0 million non-Hispanic White people, 4.4 million Hispanic/Latino people, 2.4 million non-Hispanic Black people, and 1.0 million non-Hispanic people of other races or multiple races. The 2018 coverage rate (the share of eligible people who receive WIC benefits) is somewhat higher for Hispanic/Latino people (63 percent) than for non-Hispanic Black people (58 percent). The coverage rate is estimated to be 49 percent for non-Hispanic White people. The relative magnitude of coverage rates for Hispanic/Latino people, non-Hispanic Black people, and non-Hispanic White people has remained consistent from 2007 to 2018.
In the most recent years of the series—2016 to 2018—the coverage rate declined for Hispanic/Latino people, due to a decline in the number of participants, while the number of Hispanic/Latino people eligible for WIC stayed relatively constant. For non-Hispanic White people, participation was relatively stable from 2016 to 2018, while the number of people eligible for WIC decreased somewhat, leading to an increase in the estimated coverage rate. (The eligibility and coverage rate estimates for years prior to 2016 cannot be directly compared with the estimates for 2016 through 2018 because of changes to the underlying data.)
We use the term “Hispanic/Latino” for consistency with the terminology used in the surveys that underlie the eligibility estimates. “Non-Hispanic White people” include non-Hispanic people who do not report identifying with any race other than White. “Non-Hispanic Black people” include non-Hispanic people who do not report identifying with any race other than Black.
Among all infants and children eligible for WIC in 2018, 3.5 million were Hispanic/Latino, 3.3 million were non-Hispanic and White, 1.9 million were non-Hispanic and Black, and 0.8 million were non-Hispanic people of other races or multiple races. Hispanic/Latino infants and children had the highest coverage rate in 2018 (61 percent). The coverage rate was estimated at 55 percent for non-Hispanic Black infants and children, 45 percent for non-Hispanic White infants and children, and 58 percent for non-Hispanic infants and children of other races and multiple races.
Twenty-six percent of eligible infants and children in 2018 lived in households with six or more members, and 22 percent lived in households with five members. Only 5 percent lived in households with two members.
Fifty-seven percent of infants and children who were eligible for WIC in 2018 lived in two-parent households, while 37 percent lived in single-parent households, and 6 percent lived with a caretaker who is not a parent. About 6 percent of infants and children eligible for WIC lived with a family member who had ever served in the US Armed Forces, and about 2 percent lived with a family member currently serving in the military.
The WIC coverage rate (the share of people eligible for WIC who receive benefits) varies substantially across states. In 2018, 14 states had an overall WIC coverage rate (across all demographic groups eligible for WIC) below 50 percent, while one state, Vermont, had a coverage rate over 70 percent. Within each state, the coverage rates for the demographic groups followed the national pattern: infants had the highest coverage rates, women had lower coverage rates, and children had the lowest coverage rates.
In 2018, Vermont, Wyoming, and North Dakota had the fewest numbers of people eligible for WIC (with fewer than 25,000 eligible people in each of these states), reflecting their small total populations; California and Texas had the largest numbers of people eligible for WIC (more than one million in each state), reflecting their large populations.
The eligibility rate (the portion of all infants, young children, pregnant women, and potentially-eligible postpartum women eligible for the program) was lowest in Utah (31 percent) and highest in New Mexico (61 percent) and Puerto Rico (85 percent).
Over time, states show different patterns of changes in WIC eligibility and participation and in the WIC coverage rate. In 38 states, the 2018 coverage rate is within 5 percentage points of the 2016 coverage rate, which may be because of relative stability in both the number of people eligible for WIC and the number of WIC participants or because of both numbers changing by about the same percentage. However, other places were estimated to have larger changes, with the District of Columbia showing a decline in the coverage rate (because of higher eligibility combined with lower participation), and Vermont showing an increased coverage rate (because of a decline in estimated eligibility combined with a lesser decline in participation). (The eligibility and coverage rate estimates for years prior to 2016 cannot be directly compared with the estimates for 2016 through 2018 because of changes to the underlying data.)
Although Hispanic/Latino people overall have a higher WIC coverage rate than non-Hispanic people, and non-Hispanic White people generally have a lower coverage rate than other non-Hispanic people, coverage rates within a racial/ethnic group vary widely across states. In 2018, coverage rates for non-Hispanic, White people ranged from 23 percent in the District of Columbia to 73 percent in Vermont. For Hispanic/Latino people, the coverage rate ranged from 44 percent in Montana to virtually full coverage in several states. Also, states vary in the relative coverage rates of different racial/ethnic groups. For example, in California, coverage rates are similar for Hispanic/Latino people (72 percent) and non-Hispanic people who are either Black or who identify as a race other than White (68 percent). However, in New York, the WIC coverage rate for Hispanic/Latino people (60 percent) is lower than for non-Hispanic Black people and people of other races other than White (74 percent). (Note that the confidence intervals around these estimates may be quite large, especially for small states, and should therefore be interpreted with caution.)
For more detailed information, including methodology, refer to the full report.