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Driven by the recession, a record 4.7 million families are getting welfare to pay for life's necessities: food, clothing and a place to live.

Federal figures obtained by The Associated Press show the number of Americans participating in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program has risen steadily since the recession began, from 11.6 million in July 1990 to 13.4 million in December 1991, the most recent month for which statistics are available.The cost to the federal government has risen as well:

- $13.5 billion in 1991.

- An estimated $15.1 billion for 1992.

- An estimated $15.5 billion for 1993.

Twenty-five states responding to a questionnaire by the American Public Welfare Association said the sour economy was the main reason for the bigger caseloads. Nine others put the economy second or third.

In Maryland and Arizona, studies found a majority of new AFDC applicants had held jobs - many within recent months.

David Boomer, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families, the federal agency that oversees AFDC, acknowledged that the recession is having a big impact on the number of people seeking aid.

"We're hopeful that the trend of consecutive increases will end soon," he said.

But Boomer said there are other factors.

Over the past 20 years, he said, there has been a big increase in the number of single-parent families, and several states have become more aggressive in helping the needy apply for federal assistance.

AFDC provides direct aid to poor parents to help them afford food, clothing and a place to live. The program is run by the states, which set eligibility requirements, including strict limits on income and assets.

Nearly 86 percent of AFDC recipients also receive food stamps, another government program that is experiencing record levels.

The government says the number of families participating in AFDC averaged 3.8 million - or 10.9 million people - monthly in 1989, rising to 4.4 million families - 12.6 million individuals - in September 1991.

Those numbers stood at 4.7 million families and 13.4 million people in December.

At the end of September, the average monthly caseload nationwide was nearly 4.4 million families - or about 12.6 million recipients.


(Additional information)

Rich getting richer

America's rich are getting richer, with the most wealthy 1 percent of Americans gaining much of the prosperity since 1977, The New York Times reported Thursday.

The average pretax income of families in the top 1 percent swelled to $560,000 from $315,000 between 1977 and 1989, for a 77 percent gain in a dozen years, when figuring in inflation-adjusted dollars, the report said.

"At the same time, the typical American family saw its income edge up only 4 percent, to $36,000. And the bottom 40 percent of families had actual declines in income," it said.

Citing statistics compiled by the Congressional Budget Office, the research arm of Congress, the report said 60 percent of the growth of the average after-tax income of all Americans between 1977 and 1989 went to the nation's wealthiest 660,000 families. And three-fourths of the gain in average pretax income went to the same families.