These charts show the number of Americans receiving food stamps as reported by the United States Department of Agriculture. As of the latest data released on July 10, 2020 the total is 43 million. If our food-stamp population were a separate country, it would rank at #34 among the world’s 233 countries. (See the list here.)
Unfortunately, at the time of this writing in December 2020, the USDA has stopped publishing this data. They used to report the data with a two-month lag, but have only given us data through April 2020. They claim they have to recount the data due to confusion in the states caused by the P-EBT program which gives assistance to families with children no longer getting a free lunch at school. However, it’s more likely that the president simply doesn’t want to be embarrassed by the undoubtedly horrific data even though it was the governors and mayors who put the country on lockdown. Hopefully, the USDA will be allowed to resume reporting after the election.
It was likely the 5.9 million people added to the food-stamp rolls in April that triggered the reporting freeze. The first chart below shows that spike, and monthly totals since the Great Recession (click charts to enlarge):
Note: during the government shutdown in January 2019, another large chunk of food-stamp recipients disappeared from the data. It looks like the administration used the shutdown as an opportunity to “improve” the president’s stats. Consequently, the annual charts below only go through 2018, the last year that we had clean data to work with.
The second chart shows annual totals back to 1975.
Note: The chart above is the average size of the food-stamp population over the year.
The next chart shows the percentage of Americans on food stamps (using FRED’s “POP” data series):
The next chart shows the monthly amount paid to recipients. Starting from $6.63 in 1969, the amount has risen steadily, primarily due to inflation. However, the amount has dropped a bit since the peak in 2011:
The next chart shows the total annual benefits paid out. At $60.6 billion in fiscal 2018, this is a major program:
A program with this many participants incurs huge administrative costs: $4.4 billion in 2018 – and that is only the federal government’s share. In addition, each state spends money to administer their end of the operation. The chart shows only federal expenses:
The next chart shows the breakdown of participants by race (see table A.21 of this USDA report):
The next chart shows the number of individuals added to, or subtracted from, the food stamp rolls highlighted by presidential administration:
The next chart shows the numerical totals for each president. Keep in mind that not all presidents were in office for the same number of years:
Above, I criticized President Trump for (probably) tainting this once-insightful data. But how did he actually do in getting people back to work? I believe that he made a modest improvement in the data (pre-pandemic). However, as long as the country continues to follow a policy of mass-immigration, it will be very difficult, if not impossible to put a noticeable dent in the thick blanket of poverty that covers this nation.
Note: The numbers for Presidents Trump, Obama, and Bush (43) are higher than they otherwise would have been because the government started to use food stamps for disaster relief starting in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina. However, keep in mind that poor people are more vulnerable to natural disasters. Imagine a union factory worker in Ohio making $28 per hour, and a non-union factory worker in Florida making $8. Then they are both victims of a natural disaster. Which one is more likely to end up on food stamps? The worker in Ohio probably has some money saved, while the worker in Florida was living paycheck-to-paycheck. So, one could argue that the fact that food stamps are needed for disaster relief is itself evidence of a very high level of poverty.
Note: The annual totals used above are based on the federal government’s fiscal year, which begins in October.
Note: States are allowed to deny food stamps to convicted felons. Different states have different policies, however it doesn’t effect their expenditures either way since the USDA pays for all food stamps.
Note: The March 2012 numbers are slightly elevated due to disaster relief for windstorms that occurred in February and March 2012. However, the USDA did not give exact numbers, possibly because “congregate feeding” methods were used.
Note: The Obama Administration loosened the ABAWD (able-bodied adults without dependents) requirements. So, that accounts for a small portion of the increase in food-stamp usage. This action was similar to extending unemployment benefits due to the poor job market. See this report from the Congressional Research Service for more information.
Note: See this page for the history of the food-stamp/SNAP program.
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Last update: July 10, 2020
Next update: ???