New face of food stamps: working-age Americans

Slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs play big role
Associated Press
Jan 27, 2014

In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps — a switch from a few years ago, when children and the elderly were the main recipients.

Some of the change is due to demographics, such as the trend toward having fewer children. But a slow economic recovery with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gulf between low-wage and high-skill jobs also plays a big role. It suggests that government spending on the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program — twice what it cost five years ago — may not subside significantly anytime soon.

Food stamp participation since 1980 has grown the fastest among workers with some college training, a sign that the safety net has stretched further to cover America's former middle class, according to an analysis of government data for The Associated Press by economists at the University of Kentucky. Formally called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, or SNAP, the program now covers 1 in 7 Americans.

The findings coincide with the latest economic data showing workers' wages and salaries growing at the lowest rate relative to corporate profits in U.S. history.

President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night is expected to focus in part on reducing income inequality, such as by raising the federal minimum wage. Congress, meanwhile, is debating cuts to food stamps, with Republicans including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., wanting a $4 billion-a-year reduction to an anti-poverty program that they say promotes dependency and abuse.

Economists say having a job may no longer be enough for self-sufficiency in today's economy.

"A low-wage job supplemented with food stamps is becoming more common for the working poor," said Timothy Smeeding, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in income inequality. "Many of the U.S. jobs now being created are low- or minimum-wage — part-time or in areas such as retail or fast food — which means food stamp use will stay high for some time, even after unemployment improves."

The newer food stamp recipients include Maggie Barcellano, 25, of Austin, Texas. A high school graduate, she enrolled in college but didn't complete her nursing degree after she could no longer afford the tuition.

Hoping to boost her credentials, she went through emergency medical technician training with the Army National Guard last year but was unable to find work as a paramedic because of the additional certification and fees required. Barcellano, now the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, finally took a job as a home health aide, working six days a week at $10 an hour. Struggling with the low income, she recently applied for food stamps with the help of the nonprofit Any Baby Can, to help save up for paramedic training.

"It's devastating," Barcellano said. "When I left for the Army I was so motivated, thinking I was creating a situation where I could give my daughter what I know she deserves. But when I came back and basically found myself in the same situation, it was like it was all for naught."

Since 2009, more than 50 percent of U.S. households receiving food stamps have been adults ages 18 to 59, according to the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The food stamp program defines non-elderly adults as anyone younger than 60.

As recently as 1998, the working-age share of food stamp households was at a low of 44 percent, before the dot-com bust and subsequent recessions in 2001 and 2007 pushed new enrollees into the program, according to the analysis by James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky.

By education, about 28 percent of food stamp households are headed by a person with at least some college training, up from 8 percent in 1980. Among those with four-year college degrees, the share rose from 3 percent to 7 percent. High-school graduates head the bulk of food stamp households at 37 percent, up from 28 percent. In contrast, food stamp households headed by a high-school dropout have dropped by more than half, to 28 percent.

The shifts in food stamp participation come amid broader changes to the economy such as automation, globalization and outsourcing, which have polarized the job market. Many good-paying jobs in areas such as manufacturing have disappeared, shrinking the American middle class and bumping people with higher levels of education into lower-wage work.

An analysis Ziliak conducted for the AP finds that stagnant wages and income inequality play an increasing role in the growth of food stamp rolls.

Taking into account changing family structure, higher unemployment and policy expansions to the food stamp program, the analysis shows that stagnant wages and income inequality explained just 3.5 percent of the change in food stamp enrollment from 1980 to 2011. But from 2000 to 2011, wages and inequality accounted for 13 percent of the increase.

Several economists say food stamp rolls are likely to remain elevated for some time. Historically, there has been a lag before an improving unemployment rate leads to a substantial decline in food stamp rolls; the Congressional Budget Office has projected it could take 10 years.

"We do not expect income inequality stabilizing or declining in the absence of real wage growth or a significant reduction in unemployment and underemployment problems," said Ishwar Khatiwada, an economist for the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University who reviewed the Labor and Commerce departments' wage data.

Full- and part-time workers employed year-round saw the fastest growth in food stamp participation since 1980, making up 17 percent and 7 percent of households, respectively. In contrast, the share of food stamp households headed by an unemployed person has remained largely unchanged, at 53 percent. Part-year workers declined in food stamp share.




Where can you apply for food assistance?


Try caling:

County Department of Job and Family Services
221 West Parish Street
Sandusky, OH 44870-4886
Phone/Ext: 419-626-6781
Fax: 419-626-5854 TTY/TTD: 419-626-6781 Hours: 8-4:30, Mon-Fri



"The findings coincide with the latest economic data showing workers' wages and salaries growing at the lowest rate relative to corporate profits in U.S. history."

That quote pretty well, if not completely, sums up the real issue. Corporations are cleaning up on this man-made imbalance which was generated and supported by the banking institutions who made (and continue to make) record profits off the backs of 99% of Americans.

With each passing and more diabolical monetary schemes are conceived to wrist power from the masses and give it's riches (money, power/control) to a few. It is blatantly obvious where the problems(s) lay and who has created them.

One day...the naysayers will wake up and see the reality they too have helped the 1%ers lay upon this once great country. When they finally do understand and accept the will be too late for them as well as those who now feel the crunch of American Capitalistic Greed on steroids.

"New World Order" is at our doorsteps (and it wasn't implemented by the desire, design or will of the masses).

"The findings coincide with the latest economic data showing workers wages and salaries growing at the lowest rate relative to corporate profits in U.S. history."


"Keep the masses busy, confused and divided." "From there...control is easy."


While most think that those on welfare and food stamps are minorities with cadillacs and fancy nails, the truth is it's white single mothers with small children and families that can't make ends meet working two jobs. By making mothers work 20 hours a week you are forcing them to spend money they don't have on a sitter to go to work and some may not have adequate transportation either. The families that receive food stamps are probably already working but don't make enough to pay for rent, utilities and bills. Also welfare does not just hand out money and food stamps. They verify a person's income and situation before approving benefits. If there happens to be a single mom receiving benefits while living with a boyfriend receiving a paycheck, she is supposed to report his income. If she does not, then she is committing fraud and they will eventually find out. Also, we only each contribute about 7% to fund welfare recipients. So, most of your hard-earned money is going to you, not to other people.


Those are mudsharks




Like your mom when she left your dad likes chocolate.



Why do you think those single mom's don't get married? They would lose the freebies. Single by choice.

It's the new mindset of entitlement.


Think of the food stamp program as a business subsidy.


Re: "Think of the food stamp program,"

Should be thought more like the modern day 'hidden' equivalent of the 1930s breadlines and soup kitchens.


Except that we still have these as well.


Re: "Except (snip)"

Point: The financial crisis has merely been "papered over" with increased debt and money printing.

"The Great Recession" never left.

From the Grave

We can thank whomever it was that allowed all of our manufacturing jobs to leave the country. Not everyone is cut out for a high tech job anyway.

"The world needs ditch diggers" ~Judge Smails


No news with this article, although it does help to quash the usual GOP mantra that food stamp recipients are all lazy welfare queens. Anyone actually paying attention already knew that the majority are children, the elderly or disabled, and a majority are Caucasian. The rise in food stamps is easily traced: hundreds of thousands of jobs lost each month during the final year of the Bush years. It continues to be a problem due to the conservative push for policies that widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.


Damn Bush.retired for over a decade and still gets the blame. I blame Sheriff Gangwer for all of Kyle Overmeyers over sights in Sandusky County then. It's not Overmeyers fault, he inherited a bad department! Lmao. Silly Democraps,

Darwin's choice

Another "blowie" from the obama queen......


Re: "hundreds of thousands of jobs lost each month,"

Impossible to keep that Paul Krugman desired housing bubble goin' forever.

All credit bubbles eventually end, Sport.


So many different factors bring people to need food stamps. A mother "choosing to be single" for freebies is a ridiculous response and completely ignores the real problems. Some of the things people on here have to say are shameful, ignorant and unsubstantiated. I hope that there are SOME people out there that understand the complex factors that caused the economy to collapse and the real need to actually put food in the bellies of the children that may someday cure cancer or become president. Sheesh.

mimi's word

My aggravation is that it has become a way for single girls to have kids and not be able to afford them because some one else will help pay for them. How do I know this..I worked at a restaurant that had a baby boom! 5 -6 girls pregnant at the same time and one day I over heard them comparing how to get the max out of all their benefits...NOT ONE had or has the father in their lives but they complain what a terrible father he is!!! Really? who choose him? wasn't a random crap shoot. I also know people on it today that can afford things I can not as a single person...going out to eat all the time...the gifts bought at christmas were outrageous...but because i waited for the picket fence that never showed I continue to bust my hump so they can enjoy...The problem is we do not see the people who are truly struggling...we see the ones who abuse it.


Did you even read the article? Your entire post is ridiculous. A restaurant had a baby boom? Restaurants have babies now? While you were at WORK? They did have jobs, right? You choose to only see the abusers. Get it right!


Made sense to me. Try learning how to read.

Most everybody on here has seen and heard the same thing in their workplace.




That pretty well sums it up if you understand it I thought you sparkling wiggles were to dumb you and your fellow sparkling wiggle miss mamma lied.


The rise in single parent household among black AND whites, is contributing HUGELY to the increased need for assistance. That is undeniable.

mimi's word

I know you love to try and paint me as an idiot deertracker but I am not. They did work at the restaurant and decided to try to be moms at the same time because of all the attention. They had waiteress jobs which means you actually have to work to make money and if you are pregnant and collecting benefits you do not have to work and can't get fired if a pregnancy problem. I also know that no matter how you want to word it as soon as you tell someone that you are on any assistance the way you look at the things you do changes. I just found out a friend is on assistance and yet my opinion about her has changed. I don't think I am the only one that sees things in adifferent light when all you see are people who are abusing it. I don't hear about the people who aren't because they do not wear it as a badge of honor or entitlement. You want to make me out to be a jerk go ahead. You are a jerk.


Deertracker likes to make everyone look bad. Only their opinion matters. The rest of us live in a different world. I see the world YOU live in. Many do wear their entitlements as a badge of honor. With the free healthcare, food stamps, free babysitters, etc. Then they have fancy cars, fancy hair, fancy nails and a Coach purse to put their Iphone in. Those who use it properly, you never see or hear about, and those are the ones I do not complain about.


WHATEVER, I WAS SIMPLY RESPONDING TO YOUR POST. It is not my fault you have a problem stating your point in an articulate way. The usual suspects get on here and go on and on about the abusers as if they are the majority on assistance. You guys could not have read the article to leave such comments.

mimi's word

Amazing how you are the only one who didn't understand. I will never believe the majority are not abusers. Just because you qualify doesn't mean you deserve it. Alot of people do not use this as a help or last resort but a I don't want to try this is the easier option.


What I don't understand is why you did not comment on the article but used this forum to vent your dissatisfaction with the abusers. You also speak as if you know exactly what is happening in other people's lives based on an overheard conversation from a few at WORK. The article CLEARLY states that most don't want the help even after they are told they may qualify. Your generalizations and judgment of others is clearly based on information you assume. Yes, there are abusers but they are not in the majority. Some people are in need of help but it is no fault of their own doing. That's what the article is about.