A Sad First: Working People Now Need Food Stamps More than Kids, Elderly

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Maggie Barcellano helps her daughter, Zoe, 3, use a pepper grinder with dinner at Barcellano's father's house in Austin, Texas on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014. Barcellano, who lives with her father, enrolled in the food stamps program to help save up for paramedic training while she works as a home health aide and raises her daughter. (AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa)
Maggie Barcellano helps her daughter, Zoe, 3, use a pepper grinder with dinner at Barcellano's father's house in Austin, Texas on Jan. 25, 2014. Barcellano, who lives with her father, enrolled in the food stamps program to help save up for paramedic training while she works as a home health aide and raises her daughter. (AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa)

Here’s how bad it is out there: Last year, household income in the middle of the economic pile was still 8.2 percent below what it was in 2007, before the Great Recession began. The recovery has been rocky for many Americans; according to a study by the National Employment Law Project, low-wage occupations saw 2.7 times more job growth than those paying decent wages during the recovery’s first three years. And that’s in keeping with a longer-term trend: Since 2001, employment has increased by 8.7 percent in lower-wage fields while the number of jobs in mid-wage occupations dropped by 7.3  percent.

That’s the backdrop for today’s Associated Press report about “the new face of food stamps.”

The AP’s Hope Yen writes:

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…

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.”

Read the whole story at the Associated Press.

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