PROJECTThe Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey

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 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 Initiative, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other foundations. The project offers insights into how proposed changes to programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could affect 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.


Research Briefs

Employment and Material Hardship among Adults with Long COVID in December 2022
July 20, 2023

Health Care Affordability Improved between 2019 and 2022 under Pandemic Health Coverage Policies
June 12, 2023

Improvements in Public Programs' Customer Service Experiences Could Better Meet Enrollees' Needs and Help Build Trust in Government
January 12, 2023

Customer Service Experiences and Enrollment Difficulties Vary Widely across Safety Net Programs
January 12, 2023

Lack of Awareness and Confusion over Eligibility Prevented Some Families from Getting Child Tax Credit Payments
August 3, 2022

Many Adults with Lower Income Prefer Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments
July 27, 2022

Access to Paid Leave Is Lowest among Workers with the Greatest Needs
July 14, 2022

Average Decline in Material Hardship during the Pandemic Conceals Unequal Circumstances
April 13, 2021

Child Tax Credit Recipients Experienced a Larger Decline in Food Insecurity and a Similar Change in Employment as Nonrecipients Between 2020 and 2021
May 6, 2021

One in Five Adults in Immigrant Families with Children Reported Chilling Effects on Public Benefit Receipt in 2019
June 18, 2020

Amid Confusion over the Public Charge Rule, Immigrant Families Continued Avoiding Public Benefits in 2019
May 18, 2020

One in Six Adults in California Immigrant Families Reported Avoiding Public Benefits in 2019
May 18, 2020

On Eve of 2020 Census, Many People in Hard-to-Count Groups Remain Concerned about Participating
February 20, 2020

Who Is Accessing Charitable Food in America?
December 11, 2019

Safety Net Access in the Context of the Public Charge Rule
August 7, 2019

Adults in Immigrant Families Report Avoiding Routine Activities Because of Immigration Concerns
July 24, 2019

Precarious Work Schedules Could Jeopardize Access to Safety Net Programs Targeted by Work Requirements
June 11, 2019

One in Seven Adults in Immigrant Families Reported Avoiding Public Benefit Programs in 2018
May 22, 2019

Despite Labor Market Gains in 2018, There Were Only Modest Improvements in Families’ Ability to Meet Basic Needs
May 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

Material Hardship among Nonelderly Adults and Their Families in 2017: Implications for the Safety Net
August 28, 2018

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

Fact Sheets

One in Four Adults in Mixed-Status Families Did Not Participate in Safety Net Programs in 2022 Because of Green Card Concerns
August 17, 2023

Immigrant Families Continued Avoiding the Safety Net during the COVID-19 Crisis
February 1, 2021

Uno de Cada Siete Adultos en Familias Inmigrantes Se Abstuvo de Participar en Programas Sociales en el Año 2018
May 22, 2019

Wellness Check: Financial Instability Among Families with Infants and Toddlers
June 17, 2019

Wellness Check: Food Insecurity Among Families with Infants and Toddlers
June 13, 2019

Wellness Check: Material Hardship and Psychological Distress among Families with Infants and Toddlers
June 13, 2019

Blog Posts

Immigrant Families Hit Hard by the Pandemic May Be Afraid to Receive the Help They Need
May 19, 2020

Even Before the Coronavirus Outbreak, Hourly and Self-Employed Workers Were Struggling to Meet Basic Needs
March 20, 2020

New Data Show about 1 in 10 Adults Turns to Charitable Food Assistance
December 11, 2019

Five Ways the “Public Charge” Rule Is Affecting Immigrants in America
August 19, 2019

How Uncertainty Surrounding the “Public Charge” Rule Leads to Hardship for Immigrant Families
August 7, 2019

Unstable Work Patterns Challenge Compliance with Safety Net Work Requirements
June 13, 2019

With Public Charge Rule Looming, One in Seven Adults in Immigrant Families Reported Avoiding Public Benefit Programs in 2018
May 21, 2019

Renters Are More Likely than Homeowners to Struggle with Paying for Basic Needs
October 31, 2018

Survey Questionnaires

Research Areas Health and health care
Tags From Safety Net to Solid Ground
Policy Centers Health Policy Center