The Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey

A new data source for monitoring the health and well-being of individuals and families

Older woman calculating expenses

Federal and state policymakers are weighing changes to programs that help low-income people meet their basic needs for food, medical care, and shelter. As they consider these changes to the public safety net, policymakers have few tools to monitor trends in material hardship as the economy evolves and new policies take effect.

To fill this gap, the Urban Institute launched the Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey (WBNS) in December 2017 to track individual and family well-being at a time when the safety net faces a period of transition. By assessing the ability of adults and their families to meet basic needs, the survey can provide a broader understanding of material well-being than income-based poverty indicators.

What does the survey entail?

The new annual survey is a key component of Urban’s From Safety Net to Solid Ground project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other foundations. The project offers insights into the implications of proposed changes to such programs as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and housing assistance for the well-being of people striving to cover their basic needs.

The WBNS is a nationally representative survey of adults ages 18 to 64 that covers topics related to health, material hardship, and individual and family well-being, as well as the interaction of adults and their families with major safety net programs. The survey’s core domains include health status and health care, housing and neighborhoods, family income, program participation, food security, employment, and family financial security.


The Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey: A New Data Source for Monitoring the Health and Well-Being of Individuals and Families

August 28, 2018

Research Briefs
Material Hardship among Nonelderly Adults and Their Families in 2017: Implications for the Safety Net

August 28, 2018

Homeowner and Renter Experiences of Material Hardship: Implications for the Safety Net
November 1, 2018

What Explains the Widespread Material Hardship among Low-Income Families with Children?
December 20, 2018

Working to Make Ends Meet during Good Economic Times
February 14, 2019

Financial Distress among American Families: Evidence from the Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey
February 14, 2019

Renters are more likely than homeowners to struggle with paying for basic needs

November 1, 2018

Survey Resources
The Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey 2017 Questionnaire