Working poor now majority of food stamp recipients — with college educated among fastest growing group of users

By George Chidi
Sunday, January 26, 2014 20:20 EDT
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In the wake of recent cuts to the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program — or food stamps — the Associated Press reported Sunday that working-age people have now passed children and the elderly as the majority of recipients for households relying on food stamps.

The program now covers one in seven Americans, with the fastest growth in use among workers with some college training, the AP reported.

Stories about the rising use of food stamps by seemingly-undeserving recipients — prompting the conservative backlash — began near the start of the recession with tales of Brooklyn hipsters using food stamps for organic salmon. But with increasing regularity we’re reading stories of adjunct college professors and government employees relying on SNAP to feed themselves and their children, evidence that SNAP is the virtual breadline of the Great Recession.

The AP report, a product of research with the University of Kentucky, comes ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, which is expected to focus heavily on income inequality.

Meanwhile, Congress is debating further cuts to the food stamp program. In November, Congress allowed increases to the program enacted at the start of the recession to expire, reducing benefits by about $9 to $11 per person per month and bringing the value down to an average of less than $1.40 per person for each meal. The reduction left families scrambling to make up the difference. Food banks across the country ran out of supplies.

Both federal and state-level lawmakers have targeted the rise of food stamp use as a sign of increasing public “dependency” on the government, and have looked for ways to restrict access to food stamps, despite the continuing weakness of the job market. For example, Georgia’s legislature will debate drug testing for poor people as a condition for receipt of SNAP benefits, despite a similar measure in Florida catching virtually no one, costing millions and ultimately being ruled unconstitutional three weeks ago by a federal judge. Another similar drug testing policy in Utah yielded only 12 positive results in a year.

“Some of the change is the result of changing demographics, such as a trend toward having fewer children, but the slow economic recovery is also playing a role, with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs,” the AP reported. “It’s a sign the safety net has stretched to cover what used to be the middle class.”

[Professor pointing at college student with hands raised in classroom, courtesy of Shutterstock.]

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