Weighing the New Norm: 1 in 8 Americans on Food Stamps

What it means for poverty, politics and the economy

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One in eight Americans receive food stamps, reports The New York Times, as do nearly one in four children. The high enrollment rate is part of the recent unemployment crisis but is also due to longer trends, including a Bush-era outreach effort and a push to reduce the social stigma of food stamps. Food stamp requirements have also been loosened. For example, Americorps volunteers have easier access. Is this a good thing?

  • Important Social Service  The American Prospect's Monica Potts notes that there will always be a bottom rung. "[O]fficials saw that rushing people into low-wage jobs didn't really help alleviate poverty," she writes. "There will likely always be people unable to work, and there will always be jobs on the bottom of the pay scale. The only thing that changes is whether we decide those people should have access to an easier life."
  • Rapidly Changing Politics of Poverty  The Washington Independent's Megan Carpentier looks at the shift in Republican thinking since Obama entered office. "Everyone from Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) to George W. Bush and his food stamp administrator Eric Bost to former Wisconsin governor and presidential candidate Tommy Thompson is a food stamp booster for the working poor -- the people who make minimum wage but can't make ends meet. But you can have a job in this country and still go hungry -- and some people who acknowledge that think the best solution is just to give companies more tax breaks."
  • Program's Unnecessary Sprawl  The Atlantic Council's James Joyner sighs, "rather clearly, we've taken this to absurd levels, creating a self-licking ice cream cone in which the program's main focus is on expanding the program. Do we really need to be providing food stamps to able-bodied college graduates who are Americorps volunteers?" He adds, "This is a classic case where good intentions and rent seeking collide."
  • Tremendous Good Per Dollar  EconoBlogger Mike Konczal finds that it only costs $1488 to keep one person on food stamps for a year. That's "less than half of what we give someone who makes $175,000/year to lever up when they buy a gigantic home. It also has the twin benefits of helping people suffering through double-digit unemployment, as well as the the highest 'bank for the buck' rating as stimulus as estimate by Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com."
  • Proves Poverty Is New Norm  Gawker's Hamilton Nolan is sad. "The Way We Live Now: coming to terms with hopelessness," he writes. "This is the sort of thing that normal Americans are dealing with, pretty much always and forevermore! Food stamps and shitty housing and poverty-level jobs with few if any benefits. The American dream is fully intact." Nolan does not note that the rise in food stamp usage began in 2001, well before the current financial crisis.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.