NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A New Food Stamp Pattern

October 20, 2014

The food stamp program (more formally, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) is intended to help low-income Americans with their food bills. Traditionally, the number of Americans receiving SNAP benefits rises during poor economic times and falls during good ones. But that is not what is happening today, says Robert Doar, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. While SNAP responded as one would expect to changes in employment levels from 1969 through 2003, it began to grow from 2003 to 2007, despite the drop in unemployment that took place during that time.

Today, says Doar, there are tens of millions of Americans on food stamps. In December 2012, the program hit a record high, with 47.8 million recipients. It has barely budged since then, dropping only 2.7 percent.

He compares the recovery today with the recovery after the early 1980s recession:

  • During the four years of recovery after the 1982-1982 recession, the number of recipients in the SNAP program fell by 12.5 percent.
  • But in the four years after the 2007-2009 recession, the number of recipients in the SNAP program increased by 15.6 percent.

Had SNAP conformed with the 1980s recovery, Doar calculates there would be just 36 million Americans on food stamps rather than 46.7 million today.

What explains the shift? Doar admits the economy is still struggling, but it cannot be the sole culprit behind the food stamp rise. He suggests that the food stamp program, combined with the plethora of other welfare assistance programs that the government offers, is encouraging Americans to take government benefits instead of work. To many, employment may not seem worth the effort when food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and unemployment benefits are available.

Source: Robert Doar, "The US economic recovery is still on food stamps," American Enterprise Institute, October 16, 2014. 


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