In 2015, 15 million people were eligible to receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in a given month. Of the 15 million, 53 percent, or just under 8 million people, were covered by the program.
National WIC eligibility and coverage rates by year and participant category
In 2015, more than 2.5 million infants (63 percent of all infants) in the United States were eligible for WIC. Seventy-seven percent of eligible infants participated in the program. In comparison, 46 percent of eligible pregnant women were covered.
Between 2014 and 2015, the overall coverage rate (the share of eligible people who participated in WIC) decreased from 55 to 53 percent.
The number of WIC-eligible children in each age category was roughly equal in 2015, but coverage rates drop as children get older.
Coverage rates by state in 2015
Although coverage rates vary significantly across states, almost all states follow the national pattern: infants have the highest coverage rates, coverage rates for women are lower, and children have the lowest coverage rates.
In 2015, California, Vermont, and Maryland had the highest coverage rates overall.
(The coverage rate is the share of eligible people who participated in WIC. Participating in WIC means receiving WIC benefits. Some enrollees do not receive benefits and are not counted as participants.)
WIC demographics for eligible infants and children in 2015
Non-Hispanic white infants and children constitute the largest share of WIC-eligible infants and children (39 percent), but Hispanic infants and children have the highest coverage rate (63 percent).
Twenty-three percent of eligible infants and children live in households with six or more members, and about 22 percent live in households with five members; only 5 percent live in households with only two members.
Fifty-eight percent of WIC-eligible infants and children live in two-parent households, while 37 percent live in single-parent households. Over 5 percent of WIC-eligible infants and children live in families without parents; 3.6 percent live with a related nonparent caretaker, and 1.7 percent live with an unrelated nonparent caretaker.
National WIC eligibility and participation over time
The share of eligible people who participated in WIC—or, the coverage rate—has slowly declined from a high of over 63 percent in 2011 and 2012 to 53 percent in 2015. This trend occurs across all demographic groups.
Since 2011, the estimated number of WIC-eligible people has increased, but the number of people participating in the program has decreased. These two factors have caused the coverage rate to decline.
From 2005 to 2015, infants and postpartum nonbreastfeeding women consistently had higher coverage rates than other groups. The coverage rates for children always decline as they get older; 4-year-olds have the lowest coverage rates.
Notes: The eligibility rate is the share of the demographic group eligible for WIC. The population numbers and eligibility rates for pregnant women, postpartum breastfeeding women, and postpartum nonbreastfeeding women are not currently available for the full range of years, so they are not shown.
For more detailed information, including methodology, refer to the full report.