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Food stamps


I can't get over the fact that one in eight Americans are on food stamps.

Graph credit: The New York Times.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 11, 2010; 8:46 AM ET
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I can't get over it either. There's something wrong...obviously.

I suppose 10% plus unemployment is part of it. That and the additional millions who are discouraged or underemployed - the total comes to, what, 17%? Wow.

Median wage erosion over the past 30 years means the price of food has gone up faster than a family's ability to put it on the table.

None of it bodes well for the future, I'm afraid.

Posted by: luko | February 11, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

When the stimulus package was passed, I couldn't get over the fact that they were spending so much money on pork (and yes, tax cuts too) when it was clear to me that unemployment benefits and food stamps were going to be needed by a lot of people for a long time. It kills me to read about all the waste in the stimulus package. It absolutely kills me.

Posted by: bgmma50 | February 11, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

They aren't food stamps. As of Oct. 1, 2008, they started calling it the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. To be eligible for food stamps (I'm sorry, SNAP), the household income of a family of four has to be $28,668 or below, and less than $2000 in the bank. Though certain types on income are not counted in that amount, such as SSI, TANF (formerly AFDC--why do they need to keep changing names?) and most retirement pensions.

However, eligibility requirements and the poverty line do change, and that might contribute (along with high unemployment) to the increase in numbers. Also, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has had (if I recall correctly) a program, or multiple programs, to educate people who were eligible for food stamps but not collecting them on the fact that they were eligible, and how to collect. It could be a case of people who were already eligible finally getting with the program.

Another reason more people might be getting food stamps is the employment requirement, which often requires that the recipient work or participate in workfare to get their SNAP allotment. However, the stimulus bill eliminated the time limit for recipients to be unemployed and still receive benefits through September 30, 2010, so recently more folks who would have been cut off get to stay on.

According to the Social Security Administration, both median and average wages have gone up between 1990 and 2008. So I'm not sure if that's the problem. Though it may well be the case that median and average wages have gone down between 2008 and 2010, as salary cuts are one way cash-strapped businesses try to stay in business and fire fewer employees.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 11, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

That's because no one likes to talk about it. I would guess that a very large %age of Americans, perhaps even a small majority, have been on food stamps at one point or another. I had them during a period of unemployment when I also was attending grad school. The grad school part would have marked me as some abuser of the system, although I wound up working my way through w/o debt. I came from a blue collar background so I wasn't someone from Scarsdale slumming on someone else's dime. The food stamps helped. A lot of people have been on AFDC/SNAP, too, but they don't want to talk about it. That group includes very middle class relatives of mine. It's probably socially a better thing than the other relatives who borrowed enormous sums of money from other family and never repaid the debt. The notion of people helping each other w/o govt sounds great as a soundbite but does not insure virtue or even responsibility.

Posted by: thebuckguy | February 11, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

One might ask the American public, "How's that no-hopey, no-changey, conservative free market, bankers know best corporate thing workin' out for ya?"

Not well, I suspect. Also.

Posted by: mjshep | February 11, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

No offense, but of course you can't get over it; you, me, and most of your readership are in the "4+ years of college" demographic, for which the rate of SNAP usage seems to be below 5%.

Posted by: rusty_spatula | February 11, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Kevin Willis: The main reason why the names changed is because they do not actually use stamps anymore, but instead they use debit cards, which is somewhat easier to manage. AFDC to TANF is a different issue; after welfare reform it was a fairly new program, and they wanted to throw the word "temporary" into the name.

Posted by: usergoogol | February 11, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

It is astounding.

But even more astounding is that a generation of Republican dominance has made life so risky for families that the probability of an American child (under 21) spending at least some time on food stamps is 49% (see:

The Republicans have made this a very different country than it was a generation ago. Do we want to continue on that trajectory?

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | February 11, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

But thank god we have avoided Socialism!

As long as massive government intervention only helps bankers, we are preserving God/motherhood/pie.

Posted by: NS12345 | February 11, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

It's also gruesomely interesting to see the shape of the graph from 2000 till today. It's not just that an unusually deep recession has driven so many people onto the food assistance rolls. It's that masses of people have been continuously driven onto the rolls nonstop since 2000, even as a bubble economy created millions of (temporary) jobs in construction and related industries, and as combined $billions in Wall Street bonuses failed to trickle down (I'm shocked! Shocked!). Even without the recession, something like 1-in-10 Americans were on the rolls. Now it's up to 1-in-8. Those last 2 notches of misery, sadly, are only frosting on the cake.

Posted by: JonathanTE | February 12, 2010 11:18 AM | Report abuse

It's interesting to see how many people didn't read the linked article. The NYT says that the rise in food-stamps use came about because Congress and the Bush administration widened eligibility after sharp tightening during the Clinton years. This issue isn't easy to fit into the usual political pigeonholes.

Posted by: tomtildrum | February 12, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

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