Pethokoukis, Economics, U.S. Economy, Uncategorized

America’s food stamps recovery, in 1 chart

SNAP trends through recessions 1969-2013

Let’s be clear: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food stamps, is an important part of the safety net. As AEI’s Robert Doar recently told Congress:

SNAP alleviates material hardship, reduces poverty, helps the elderly and disabled, andprovides needed food to children in low income families. By supplementing low wages, SNAP can encourage and sustain work while discouraging the use of cash welfare.

But then there’s this: SNAP participation is supposed to be cyclical. Rises during recessions. Falls during recoveries. Usually. But not this time. In the four years after the Great Recession, the number of SNAP recipients increased by 7.3 million, and the share of the US population receiving food stamps increased from 13% to 15%. Again, Doar:

Despite these positive aspects of SNAP, my experience with the program during the past ten years, especially during the period following the 2008-09 recession, leads me to believe that some efforts to  promote the use of SNAP may have reduced the work support aspect of the program.
By itself, SNAP  benefits may not be enough to reduce the incentive for a recipient to go to work, or to move from part-time to full-time regular employment, but when combined with unreported earnings or other assistance  programs — perhaps most notably unemployment insurance benefits – the program does appear to  allow a significant number of adult recipients to remain out of work longer than they might otherwise. 
Without some effort to require these SNAP recipients to participate in employment programs such as  those offered under TANF, I fear that the number of non-working, nonelderly, nondisabled SNAP  recipients will remain high. This will contribute to slower economic growth — but more important, it will  keep these families poor. 
Follow James Pethokoukis on Twitter at @JimPethokoukisand AEIdeas at @AEIdeas.

6 thoughts on “America’s food stamps recovery, in 1 chart

  1. Wow: to read this, one would think America’s most pressing economic problem was a labor shortage, and that the recession of 2008 was an epidemic of lazy workers voluntarily walking off the job.

    Of course, if that were true, we would expect to see skyrocketing wages for the few people left who were willing to work. As Pethokoukis points out in http://wp.me/p2x8s8-z2x , there is still no sign of wage growth.

    Which means the problem Doar is so concerned about solving doesn’t exist at present (although it could well exist in a thriving economy). The reason there are so many non-working, non-disabled, non-elderly SNAP recipients is simply that they can’t find jobs. Cutting their SNAP benefits won’t do a thing to solve that problem — indeed, by taking money out of the consumer economy, it’ll further slow the economy and exacerbate the job shortage.

    Why haven’t SNAP benefits followed their usual pattern of dropping off during a recovery? You can come up with elaborate theories about how SNAP in combination with other supports is disincentivizing work more than in the past, or you could note that this has been, as so many people have pointed out, a “jobless recovery”. Gee, could that possibly have anything to do with it?

    • +1 good sir.

      We hear so Mich here about rise of the machines, yet this structural unemployment doesn’t get any exposition? Come on James, be more reasonable than your republican peers.

  2. If Doar wants “to require these SNAP recipients to participate in employment programs” then he surely should desire a government jobs program. Perhaps he’d want the program to grant employment preference to these recipients, but that probably would be unnecessary.

  3. The SNAP rate is a better fit with the employment population rate (EMRATIO), not the unemployment rate. The decline in the EMRATIO has not recovered since the trough of the Great Recession.

  4. You know, there will be a stop sign for progressive liberals to argue with shortly. Apparently if you are of a conservative mind and you produce actual indisputable facts of a correlated trend, then you are insensitive. What is truly insensitive is to be so wrapped up in progressive ideals that you fail to recognize canaries, red flags, and common sense. A single working mother with only two child dependents is enticed by a rich portfolio of unemployment/welfare, EBT-SNAP, WIC, state and federal healthcare subsidy, etc, options. So much so, that a $45,000 salary, with company benefits and some contribution by the single mother, makes getting up in the morning, driving your car to work, and spending your day at work a very tough argument. It is convenient that fuel prices have doubled in the last 10 years, taking a larger % of the single mother’s income off of the table, very progressive result. It is almost like we are shaping her dependency to the point when she has no options but to vote, progressively.

    Add to that fact that the liberal minded single mother may progressively NOT want to be married, another unpopular conservative PROVEN SUCCESS METHOD FOR RAISING CHILDREN, and guess what?

    The self-fulfilling prophecy of the progressive liberal mindset is achieved. This mindset is decaying toward destruction our country, and everyone loses when that happens.

    I absolutely believe in a safety-net, not a hammock.

    • Jefe, I’m sure that you agree that this “tough argument” is even tougher if the woman would be lucky to find a job offering one-third to one-half of what you posited, and one of her kids is severely handicapped, needing constant care (and, btw, making her less able to attract a marriage partner). This is not a hypothetical case, so let’s use it. Now, how far do you want to cut her family’s benefits to create a strong incentive for her to get a job rather than stay home caring for her kids at our expense?

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