Food Stamps

Interactive190The New York Times has a great article on the increased numbers of people on food stamps. You must check out their interactive map to see the numbers of recipients in your county. Some stats from the article:

  • 1 in 8 Americans and 1 in 4 children are on Food Stamps
  • 36 million Americans receive benefits
  • In some counties, half of all children receive benefits.
  • Only 2/3rd of those who are eligible have applied for the benefits. 15 to 16 million more could be getting services.
  • Now nearly 12 percent of Americans receive aid — 28 percent of blacks,
    15 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of whites. Benefits average about
    $130 a month for each person in the household, but vary with shelter
    and child care costs.
  • Almost 90 percent of beneficiaries nationwide live below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four).

The article focused on the rising numbers on Food Stamps due to the recession. Blue collar workers, especially those tied to the auto industry, have been forced to apply for services.

The article also talked about the politics of Food Stamps. I think they overstated the left-right divide on this issue. The right has been more accepting about food vouchers than other welfare services, because the dollar amount isn't huge, and nobody really wants poor people to starve in the streets. There have been debates about how to prevent people from gaming the system and finding a way to trade in the food vouchers for crack, but this program hasn't been as controversial as other welfare programs.

My dad runs a food pantry, and he's overwhelmed by the need for food out there. He works nearly full time stuffing brown bags with ketchup and peanut butter. Our local food pantry is always begging for rice and beans. There has to be a better way.

I would like to see more food classes offered on squeezing the most out of your food voucher and cooking nutritious meals. There needs to be more places that offer prepared meals to the poor.

And, of course, we need to get to the root of the problem. We need massive job retraining for those in the hardest hit areas.


12 thoughts on “Food Stamps

  1. “We need massive job retraining for those in the hardest hit areas.”
    But retrain for what? I remember reading about a job training program (in Florida?) that was training cosmetologists. I’m not a Floridian, but I’ve been reading about Florida’s housing woes for some time, and I strongly suspect there is not a dire shortage of cosmetologists in the state.
    There’s a NYT article here that says that federal retraining programs have had small or nonexistent effect on the future prospects of trainees:
    As the article says, if there are no jobs, retraining isn’t going to help. Also, the idea of a retraining program presupposes that the planners know where demand is going to be and how much there’s going to be. Nobody knows that. My feeling is that job training programs have a tendency to funnel even more people into trendy areas (construction, tech) that eventually prove to be bubbly. I have a very bad feeling about the current rush into nursing. It’s often a bad sign when all of a sudden, everybody’s doing something (getting their real estate license, flipping houses, daytrading).


  2. I had the same thoughts as Amy, that “massive job retraining” wasn’t going to be a solution, and certainly not a solution that gets to the root of the problem.
    I don’t have as bad feelings about nursing training as Amy does, ’cause I don’t think it’s as prone to bubbles as the other examples (i.e our aging society is going to need nurses, nursing can’t be out sourced, though it can be done by immigrants). But even with good feelings about nursing, I don’t see how training 50+ year old out of work men who used to work in automobile manufacture to be nurses is going to work.
    My solution? Welfare, early retirement, disability, and a social safety net premised on a recognition that in a flexible and efficient economy, there are going to be losers, losers who will not be re-trainable, who made the wrong decision (about the company they worked for or the need they decided to meet). I know there’s a moral hazard there — the people who could find something else economically valuable to do won’t have as much of an incentive if there’s a net. But, I don’t see massive re-training (or, the idea that everyone in America will do “skilled” labor) as a solution.


  3. My dad does St. Vincent de Paul stuff. He said demand is up in his area also.
    He’s taken to pro-bono legalizing for some people that have borrowed too much. Basically, he writes letters saying:
    1. Client has no assets.
    2. Client has income, but you can’t legally garnish small pensions and Social Security.
    3. The income isn’t sufficient to meet living expenses and pay the debt.
    4. Formal bankruptcy is an expensive hassle that he has no intention of undertaking in certain cases.
    5. Regardless Client isn’t paying anymore.
    6. Client now has a lawyer.
    7. How long to you want to beat your head against this particular wall?
    He got tired of using charity to to support people who could support themsleves if they weren’t paying on a loan, especially when there was little hope of even making the balance smaller, let alone retiring the debt.


  4. “I don’t have as bad feelings about nursing training as Amy does, ’cause I don’t think it’s as prone to bubbles as the other examples (i.e our aging society is going to need nurses, nursing can’t be out sourced, though it can be done by immigrants).”
    Part of the appeal of construction and real estate was that they also can’t be outsourced. Interestingly, our aging society was probably one of the factors that led to the housing bubble. There was a lot of hype about how rich retiring baby boomers are going to move to this place or that place, and much of the luxury condo bubble was premised on the idea that retirees were going to want to downsize to convenient urban living. Neither of these was a crazy idea, but the supply did wind up overshooting the demand. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some serious downward pressure on nursing wages in the next few years.
    I’d be very concerned about starting de facto retirement so early. Men, the poor critters, often really need their work. Without that sort of support to identity, they tend to just curl up and die.


  5. MH,
    Good for your dad.
    Speaking of debt collectors, I got a newsletter from the Catholic mission in Vladivostok a month or so ago. The priest wrote that the introduction of credit cards has been a big problem in the area, since initially, borrowers think of it as free money. The Russian twist on credit cards, he wrote, is that the credit card companies sell their bad debt to collectors who then go after borrowers with threats, including death threats.


  6. “I would like to see more food classes offered on squeezing the most out of your food voucher and cooking nutritious meals.”
    I am very skeptical about that. Middle-class reformers have been frustrated by the failure of the poor to spend their food dollar economically and nutritiously for generations now. (George Orwell wrote about this issue 70 years ago, though I don’t have a cite. Maybe in The Road to Wigan Pier?) In general, it’s unwise to assume that someone who is doing something of which you disapprove could be readily “educated” to behave better.
    It would be better to figure out how to permit the private sector to provide more jobs for people with relatively low levels of formal education.


  7. “It would be better to figure out how to permit the private sector to provide more jobs for people with relatively low levels of formal education. ”
    I think this is the wrong way to word it — “formal education.” I think the problem is not the formal education itself, but the cognitive skill set that attracts people who are interested in formal education. Take the long-haul trucker I mentioned in a previous comment, who values his English composition degree — it’s the practice of thinking deeply that he values, not the formal educational itself. Emphasizing the formal education too much leads to worthless degrees, another form of worthless training (potentially even worse than learning how to be a cosmetologist).


  8. Unless the retraining is for living wage jobs, with benefits—we’re just back to square one (after having spent a ton of money giving a profit to various “retraining” entities).
    Your work shapes you. It defines a damn good part of who you are, whether you are conscious of that or not. Your work develops not only skills, but personality characteristics that may or may not translate well to other employment.
    Now, factor in age discrimination. Factor in the “sandwich generation” for female workers (those of us dealing with raising children and caring for elderly, ill, infirm or dying parents). We don’t have national healthcare yet, so may as well factor in pre-existing conditions that a potential employer may not want to saddle his/her insurance burden with. Factor in aging bodies—how many hospitals are going to want to hire newly-trained LPNs who are over 50 and may injure themselves on the job?
    Back in the day, we were expected to die early. Throw ourselves on the scrap heap. Now, we’re too uppity to do that (how dare we, think we have the right to outlive our “usefulness” to the economy!).
    I expect the jones for job outsourcing is going to end when the cost of oil outpaces the cheap delivery of goods. By then, all the old battles (for workplace justice) will need to be re-fought.
    Oh, and another thing—retraining tends to be heavy on the gender segregation. One thing about that factory work—the battles about women on the line were fought and won awhile back. Those manufacturing jobs were less sexist than the jobs that are left. I have a nontraditional job in an area (geographical area, that is) that was always historically light on manufacturing and heavy on office work; I experience more sexism in my own home local than in locals I travel to where the economy had more manufacturing—it really does create a cultural difference even off the job.
    Battles won on the jobsite and factory floor created benefits for women at large. Office work tends to emphasize the individual, which downplays (and reinforces) the pre-existing sexism on the job—it doesn’t address the historic and systemic effects of institutional sexism. (what? you got hired didn’t you? okay, so you aren’t getting paid what Joe is down the hall, but….that has nothing to do with you, and certainly not your gender! (pat head).
    ….just….thinking out loud…


  9. I’ve got to figure out how to tie together the post and discussions about higher ed, the decline of farm life, and the problem with retraining programs.
    Work, knowledge, and skill don’t get you ahead anymore. I mean, they are still far better than inert, stupid, and inept. But the real money to in finding a way to stand in between people who can do things and people who need things.


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