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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.

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 (RWJF) 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. Samples for the WBNS are drawn from Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel®, the nation’s largest probability-based online panel.

With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Urban Institute will be partnering with the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan to make WBNS public use files available through RWJF’s Health and Medical Archive on the ICPSR website.

These fields are compatible with DCAT, an RDF vocabulary designed to facilitate interoperability between data catalogs published on the Web.
Release Date
Homepage URL
Spatial / Geographical Coverage Location
United States
Temporal Coverage
2017-01-01 00:00 to 2021-12-31 00:00
Urban Institute
Contact Name
Urban Institute
Contact Email
Public Access Level
These fields are specific to Urban Institute.
Data Dictionary Files
Related Documents
Data Value
Units of Observation
Original Data Source
Universe Target Population
adults ages 18 to 64
Data Quality or Limitations

ICPSR restricted certain variables from general dissemination for confidentiality. Users interested in obtaining the restricted data must complete a restricted data use agreement with ICPSR, specify the reasons for the request, and obtain institutional review board approval or notice of exemption for their research. Apply for access to the restricted data via the ICPSR restricted data contract portal which can be accessed on the study home page.

Urban Publications
Citation Requirements

Zuckerman, Stephen. Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey, United States, 2017. Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2020-04-14.

Urban Institute. 2020. Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey. Accessible from