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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

 
The majority of people on food stamps have jobs

by David Atkins

Let me say up front that when it comes to the social safety net, it shouldn't matter at all whether you have a job or not. Employment is increasingly hard to come by in an economy ravaged by outsourcing, deskilling and mechanization, and those with jobs are very often underemployed.

Still, if only in the service of debunking yet another right-wing lie, let it be known far and wide that most people on food stamps do have jobs. For whatever that's worth, since the "jobs" the free market sees fit to provide them don't pay enough for them to survive without government assistance:

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."
Many people don't want to admit it, but this is the new normal. And it will stay the new normal until enough Americans get angry enough to force through major policy changes to increase wages and make sure that everyone has enough to live on in dignity regardless of whether the "free market" deigns in its infinite wisdom to make decent jobs available or not.


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