There’s been an 80% rise since 2007 in the number people on food stamps, officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan thinks the bulk of the 135% cost increase comes from more generous benefit formulas and eligibility rules rather than a weak economy.
Liberal groups are aghast that House Republicans want to cut $40 billion over ten years from the $80 billion a year program. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls the House GOP bill ”harsh.” The CBPP notes that many of the 3 million to 4 million Americans losing benefits are unemployed, childless adults in high unemployment areas and “low-income families who have gross incomes above the federal SNAP limits but disposable income below the poverty line.”
Now SNAP could certainly use reform. Some research has found that food stamps reduce work incentives, suggesting the program should be abolished with its funding redistributed to other antipoverty programs such at the Earned Income Tax Credit. I agree with Reihan Salam who advocates a broader rethink of how we support low-income households beyond just “rolling back” SNAP. I worry we don’t have a good feel for the dynamics of the US labor market right now, and how exactly the labor force — the low-skill bit, especially — is being affected by technology as it intersects with rising hiring costs. Certainly market income for the bottom 20% in recent decades has fallen sharply.
Economist Tyler Cowen thinks there are a growing number of Americans who business would not want at almost any price. As he writes in his new book, Average is Over, “I believe these ‘zero marginal product’ workers account for a small but growing percentage of our workforce. At the very least, they make it unlikely that we will return to 4 percent unemployment in the foreseeable future.”
Indeed, long-term unemployment remains abnormally and persistently high more than four years after the recession’s official end. A recent study on America’s back-to-back-to-back jobless recoveries has more questions than answers. If GOPers are looking for budget savings, Cowen suggests “more wasteful targets, including Medicare and also defense spending, not to mention farm subsidies.”