Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Food Stamp Hysteria

There have been a number of news stories recently about the increased use of food stamps.

NYT - As Jobs Vanish and Prices Rise, Food Stamp Use Nears Record

The Independent: Food stamps are a continuing reminder of widespread poverty

More from the Independent: USA 2008: The Great Depression

Food stamps are the symbol of poverty in the US. In the era of the credit crunch, a record 28 million Americans are now relying on them to survive – a sure sign the world's richest country faces economic crisis

UPI: More Americans need food stamps

A number of other bloggers have pointed out that these articles fail to point out several facts:

Via Carpe Diem:

There's one big, fundamental problem for these "food stamp hysteria" stories about record food stamp use of 28 million by 2009 (fiscal year 2008): The U.S. population will be at a record level of 306.272 million in 2009, and food stamp use by 28 million Americans will be about 9.14% of the population, just slightly higher than the 2005-2007 average of 8.78% (see chart above using data from USDA and the Census Bureau). And the 9.14% projected food stamp usage as a percent of population in 2008-2009, will be lower than food stamp usage in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983; and 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996.

Via James Taranto at Best of the Web:

But neither the Dispatch nor the Independent notes that the Farm Bill of 2002 substantially expanded the food-stamp program. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site notes, that legislation made legal immigrants eligible for food stamps, increased benefits for larger households, and expanded food-stamp eligibility for people leaving the TANF (welfare) rolls.

In other words, the government has made a conscious effort to expand the number of people on food stamps. Accordingly, the number of people on food stamps has expanded. And journalists are misconstruing government largesse as a sign of economic distress.

I feel for the people out there who have to depend on food stamps particularly at a time when food prices are rising pretty rapidly. However, stories like this are nothing more than economic hysteria - the purpose of which escapes me. As for the Independent and their front page, The Great Depression, well that is just over the top. We have some economic problems, but we haven't even had one negative quarter yet much less a Depression. Anything is possible, especially in an election year, but it would take a concerted effort by politicians to get us into a Depression.

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