A recent Associated Press report revealed that the majority of food stamp recipients are working age Americans. This presents a dramatic shift from the days when the youngest and oldest Americans constituted the majority of recipients.
One in seven Americans are currently enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey finds that people between 18 and 59 years of age have amounted to over 50 percent of the households acquiring food stamps as of 2009. Statistics also show that the number of workers who received some college education has increased since 1980: Almost 30 percent of households that receive food stamps are now led by someone with some higher education. Both full-time and part-time workers also saw a jump in food stamp assistance, reaching 17 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
Economists attribute this new trend to several ongoing challenges, including unemployment rates and the types of jobs that people are hired for. Low-wage work contributes to the high demand for food assistance. In general, around half of the jobs created after the recession pay low wages. College graduates are now more likely to work jobs that don’t require a degree, pay little, and are part-time. Unemployment – impacting 10.4 million Americans – has also driven people toward food assistance. The AP found that “wages and inequality” are responsible for 13 percent of the rise in food stamp participation.
Despite an uptick in food stamp enrollment, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) outlined a strategy for halving their cost – without making cuts to SNAP. As the economy recovers, fewer people require food assistance and the amount of money it costs to keep SNAP running will drop. If the government adopts a hands-off policy and refrains from reducing its SNAP funding, the costs of maintaining the service will decline as the economy grows.
Nevertheless, Congress continues to meddle with the program’s funding. Last November, for example, automatic cuts reduced the maximum allowable SNAP benefit, which was raised under the Recovery Act in 2009. When the cuts went into effect, families of four lost an average of $36 a month, while single-person households lost an average of $11. Affected recipients were left with less than $1.40 to spend per meal, on average. A newer bipartisan agreement to slash funding is also in the works under the developing farm bill. The House has proposed $40 billion in cuts, while Democrats proposed a reduction of $4 billion. While the extent of the cuts are yet to be seen, millions of Americans have much to be worried about.