WASHINGTON (AP) — In a first, working-age people now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps – a swit
ch 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.
Since 2009, more than 50 percent of U.S. households receiving food stamps have been adults ages 18 to 59, according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. The food stamp program defines non-elderly adults as anyone younger than 60.
As recently as 1998, the working-age share of food stamp households was at a low of 44 percent, before the dot-com bust and subsequent recessions in 2001 and 2007 pushed new enrollees into the program, according to the analysis by James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky.
By education, about 28 percent of food stamp households are headed by a person with at least some college training, up from 8 percent in 1980. Among those with four-year college degrees, the share rose from 3 percent to 7 percent. High-school graduates head the bulk of food stamp households at 37 percent, up from 28 percent. In contrast, food stamp households headed by a high-school dropout have dropped by more than half, to 28 percent.
We’ve heard it all, “the Food Stamp President”, “moochers”, “the 47%”, and every other derogatory name one can think of. What I’ve heard very few people call them is the working poor. That’s exactly who they are. They are the people bagging your purchase at Wal-Mart. They are the people serving your table when you eat out.
So much is being said about income distribution, income inequality, and such. However, I hear very few people actually address the structural change in our economy and society over the past 40 years which I think is a primary cause of these problems. Our employment situation for most Americans has changed to the point where people are no longer considered as valuable workers. People are nothing more than another expense on the P&L statement that comes across someone’s desk at the end of the month.
Decades ago, a person could go to work for a company in an entry-level position. From that position, the sky was the limit within reason. There was opportunity for advancement and promotion within the company. It was nothing for a person to retire from a company with 30-40 years of service. The advancement was possible to those with college as well as those who worked hard on the job without the accompanying paperwork. A person could take care of their family and provide a decent life while preparing the next generation to take over where they left off.
Nowadays, a worker is no more valuable than the truckload of supplies that gets debited out at the end of the month. There is no job loyalty anymore as there is little reward for loyalty. Whereas our manufacturing based economy offered jobs with defined career paths, the new service based economy doesn’t have that same network of career paths available. Even with a huge employer such as Wal-Mart, there are only so many management positions available to the millions of employees on their payroll. Getting $.10 to $.25 raises every year doesn’t do as much for the income as the old progression system did.
Until we decide to address the structural deficiencies in our “service” economy, the current trend will not change. Things are only going to gradually get worse. As people lose income and buying power, our consumption based economy will suffer. Less consumption means fewer jobs. By no means am I a trained economist, but I don’t think it takes a trained eye to see things for what they are. Our society has changed. Whether it’s for the better or worse remains to be seen, but we are no longer in Kansas.
I’m not suggesting not outrageous tax the rich idea or some other bullsh*t like that, but Americans have to figure out what we want for ourselves. The wealthy have long used politicians to bend things to their favor to the point where they are absorbing most of the income growth now. It’s time for Americans to retake control of their destiny and quit waiting on it to trickle down from the top. Otherwise, the new face of food stamps will become the usual face instead.