One area where the languishing U.S. economy is breaking records these days is in need. One measure: more than one in seven Americans is now on Food Stamps, an all-time record.
Here’s a graph of the share of the U.S. population drawing benefits from what used to be called the Food Stamp program, and is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which is no doubt some bureaucrat’s idea of catchy.
As of September, the latest month available (data here), over 46 million people, or almost 22 million households, were drawing SNAP benefits. That’s 14.8% of the population. That’s almost 5 points above the previous records. Note that the line kept rising during most of the weak Bush-era expansion, unlike the declines seen in the expansions of the 1980s and 1990s. There was a brief decline in 2006 and 2007, but that was quickly and savagely reversed with the onset of the Great Recession—and it’s continued to rise despite two-and-a-half years of official recovery.
Benefits are remarkably low. The average SNAP recipient gets $134 a month in assistance, which works out to $4.40 a day. That’s 10% less than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “thrifty” meal budget, and about half its “moderate” budget. (See here.) The thrifty plan is a descendant of the USDA’s old “emergency” standard (which was used to set the original poverty line). The Department claims that the current version (report here) meets most dietary minimums, though it falls short on a few.
For your average well-fed American, living on a daily ratio of less than $5 for food prepared at home would be hard to imagine. But without SNAP benefits, 46 million people would be in a state of anguish rather than just scraping by.