In 2016, an estimated 13.9 million people were eligible to receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in a given month. Of that group, 55 percent, or 7.6 million people, participated in the program.
National WIC eligibility and coverage rates by year and participant category
In 2016, 2.2 million infants (54 percent of all infants in the United States) were eligible for WIC. Eighty-six percent of eligible infants participated in the program. In comparison, 50 percent of eligible pregnant women participated.
The coverage rate is the share of eligible people who participated in WIC. WIC participation is defined as receiving or picking up WIC benefits. Enrollees who do not receive or pick up WIC benefits are not counted as participants. Between 2015 and 2016, the overall coverage rate (the share of eligible people who participated in WIC) increased from 53 to 55 percent.
The number of WIC-eligible children in each age category was roughly equal in 2016, but coverage rates drop as children get older.
Coverage rates by state in 2016
Although WIC program coverage rates vary significantly across states, almost all states follow the national pattern: infants have the highest coverage rates, women have lower coverage rates, and children have the lowest coverage rates.
In 2016, Maryland, California, and Rhode Island had the highest coverage rates overall.
Demographic characteristics of infants and children eligible for WIC in 2016
White non-Hispanic infants and children constitute the largest share of WIC-eligible infants and children (38 percent), but Hispanic infants and children have the highest program coverage rate (67 percent).
Twenty-six percent of eligible infants and children live in households with six or more members, and about 21 percent live in households with five members. Only 5 percent live in households with only two members.
Fifty-nine percent of WIC-eligible infants and children live in two-parent households, while 36 percent live in single-parent households. About 5 percent of WIC-eligible infants and children live in families without parents; 3.6 percent live with a related nonparent caretaker, and 1.6 percent live with an unrelated nonparent caretaker. About 6 percent of WIC-eligible families include a member who has served in the US Armed Forces, and about 1 percent include a family member currently serving in the military.
National WIC eligibility and participation over time
The WIC coverage rate has declined from a high of over 63 percent in 2011 and 2012 to 55 percent in 2016. This trend occurs across all major demographic groups- infants, children, and women – although in some cases the 2016 coverage rate is estimated as higher than the 2015 rate.
Since 2005, the estimated number of people eligible for WIC has fluctuated between 13.8 million in 2007 to 15.1 million in 2015. In 2016, the estimated number of people eligible for WIC decreased to 13.9 million. However, that decline might be due primarily to a single-year data issue rather than a real-world change (see the full report for more details).
From 2005 to 2016, infants and postpartum non-breastfeeding women have consistently had higher coverage rates than other groups. Among children, coverage rates are consistently lower for older children than younger children; 4-year-olds have the lowest coverage rates.
National WIC eligibility by race and ethnicity, 2016
White non-Hispanic infants and children constitute the largest share of WIC-eligible infants and children (38 percent), but Hispanic infants and children have the highest coverage rate (67 percent). This trend is consistent from 2005 to 2016.
Notes: The eligibility rate is the share of the demographic group eligible for WIC.
For more detailed information, including methodology, refer to the full report.