Last Updated:October 31 @ 12:30 pm

Food stamp rise shows the lie of economic recovery

By USA Today

At the bustling Sunday farmers' market here, $7 buys a gallon of freshly pressed apple cider, $10 a wedge of award-winning goat cheese. Eight kinds of melons spill over one farmer's table. Another overflows with organic kale, collard greens and purple heirloom tomatoes. If there was ever a sign of post-recession abundance and prosperity in the USA, this would be it.

Yet in the span of a few hours Sunday morning, dozens of shoppers queued up at an unmarked awning near the market's entrance, each handing over a bright orange debit card that allows them to buy fresh fruits and vegetables with federal food stamp benefits. Workers swiped the bright orange "Independence Cards" 53 times.

The contrast suggests just how far the USA still has to go to pull out of its economic malaise, and Census Bureau data released today confirm it: 13.6% of U.S. households received federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits last year, up from 13% in 2011 and 8.6% in 2008, at the height of the recession.

The fresh Census data detail everything from family income to marriage patterns, household size, commuting times and migration patterns, offering a detailed snapshot of how American lives are changing year by year.

In Baltimore, a port city that has found new life attracting high-tech workers downtown, the recovery has been kinder to some neighborhoods than others. On historic North Avenue a few miles north of downtown, blocks of row houses sit empty, burned out or simply abandoned.

When Michele Speaks-March and her husband, Erich March, opened their Apples & Oranges grocery store in this neighborhood last spring, they knew that "a significant number" of their clientele would rely on food stamps or other subsidies, Speaks-March says. The real figure, they soon learned, was close to 90%.

Since then, they've struggled to supplement their food stamp business with catering and deli sandwiches, among other ideas. They've found that after neighbors' SNAP benefits run out around the middle of the month, their customer base dissolves.

Experts say that part of the rise in food stamp enrollment stems from states expanding eligibility but that much of the past few years' increase results from extended unemployment. "We still have millions of individuals out of work," says Stacy Dean of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Poverty in America today, she says, is largely a story of unemployed workers or those who must combine their wages with public assistance to survive.

Congress is debating whether to tighten eligibility, which could reduce the number of people receiving the food aid. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., supports allowing states to require able-bodied recipients to spend 20 hours a week in either a job or job training.

Like many others -- including analysts at the Congressional Budget Office -- Dean expects food stamp enrollment to taper off as a more robust recovery takes hold, but that may not happen for years. The CBO doesn't expect enrollment to fall below pre-recession levels until 2019.

At the farmers' market, many SNAP recipients wait eagerly to trade their benefits for special $1 wooden tokens they can exchange for produce. One woman holds a crumpled nylon Trader Joe's grocery bag at her side as a tiny child clings to her leg. A tall man in a purple Baltimore Ravens jersey, his child riding high in a baby backpack, waits behind her.

"It's a sign of the times," says Carole Simon, the market manager. "So many people don't have jobs or they have low-paying jobs."

Jennifer Johnson, 37, of Baltimore, a nanny for 20 years, says she's happy to be able to afford the fresh fruits and vegetables, even on SNAP. "Because we have issues and we have to be on this doesn't mean that we're second-rate," she says.

Other Census findings:

--Average household and family size stopped growing for the first time since the recession, holding at 2.64 and 3.25, respectively. Both had been dropping for years before the downturn forced foreclosed families to crowd together with relatives and sent adult kids "boomeranging" to their parents' homes.

--Birth rates stopped dropping, holding at 54 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 50.

--Average travel time to work increased after dropping during the recession. It's now 25.7 minutes, up from 25.1 in 2009. The share of people who work at home rose to 4.4% in 2012, up from 3.9% in 2006.

--The USA's housing vacancy rate dropped sharply, to 12.4% from 13.1%, the lowest since 2008. Kenneth Johnson, a University of New Hampshire demographer, says the new findings suggest that the recession's braking effect on migration "may be diminishing." Domestic migration reaching its highest level in five years: Nearly 16.9 million people moved between counties in 2012, a gain of 175,000 over 2011.

Eileen Blass, USA TODAY

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24 Comments

  1. rustypatComment by rustypat
    September 19, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

    And real people who live and work (or look for work) in the real world could have told us that without any need for the statistics. I’m glad to see that the correct statistics are revealing what we’ve already known for a long time … Obama is a liar, and too incompetent to be leading the country to recovery. Instead, he is a charlatan with an agenda to erode the fabric of our Nation into some “transformed” version of America, that is anything but American.

    Obama-Nation is an Abomination.
    http://www.openbible.info/topics/abomination

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    • ahabdearabComment by ahabdearab
      September 20, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

      rustypat, Interesting comparisons abomination vs obama.

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  2. Ben_ColderComment by Ben_Colder
    September 19, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

    I once saw a customer buying high grade maple syrup with food stamps. Us taxpayers paid $63.00 for this. I wonder how much Log Cabin syrup she could have gotten for $63.00?

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    • mjz4043Comment by mjz4043
      September 19, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

      But why should she buy the cheap stuff when we are paying for her to have the best while those of us paying our taxes can buy the cheap Log Cabin? I was behind an attractive, well-dressed black woman at the grocery. She was buying those little four-packs of Starbucks coffee, nice steaks, etc. while I was buying the bare essentials and nothing fancy. Fine, if she can afford it, I’m glad for her, but I can’t afford it. Then she pulled out the State of Texas food card and I freaked out. I looked at the cashier, she didn’t flinch, I asked the man behind me if he just saw what I saw and he hadn’t. No one cares I guess, but that sure made a believer out of me. Food stamps should be restricted to things like milk, cheese, beans, rice and fresh fruit and vegetables. Starbucks and steaks? That is so wrong.

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    • bearwolf56Comment by bearwolf56
      September 19, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

      I work in retail and a guy came to the register with four DVD’s, chips, beer, and four two liters of Pepsi. He said he wanted to pay for the beer and DVDs separate. He paid for the DVDs and beer with cash. Then paid for his drinks and junk food with his ebt card. Sure made me feel good that my fax dollars help pay for him to have his movie night. I’ve also had people pay for gum and candy with ebt cards.

      I wrote to my representative in DC asking if obesity is such a health issue why are people allowed to buy soft drinks and junk food with food stamps. His reply was it would be to much trouble to put restrictions on what people can buy with it. I find this interesting since it does restrict them from buying prepared hot food.

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    • chamuielComment by chamuiel
      September 20, 2013 @ 11:21 am

      Cheap Log cabin? Since when did Log cabin become cheap?

      I settle for the even cheaper blackburn’s.

      You people must be eating high on the hog.

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  3. ksr1Comment by ksr1
    September 19, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    This article represents still yet another fine example of “Figures lie and Liars figure”. When the blame Bush crowd starts to pontificate on how bad it was and the strides we all have made with the economy, albeit slowly but surely, getting better you have to ask yourself why then are 63% more people on the SNAP dole than in 2008? Then the other problem is the run-away costs of the ever increasing government …. Most folks can see the results every time they go to the grocery store and seeing these benefactors select the most expensive items and enjoy the better things of life on our collective dime. I just wonder how much longer this can really go on. There is going to come a point in time when our “Far Eastern Friends” decide we are not worth the collective risk and stop loaning us money. But as long as the “Anointed One” sees a ready pool of LIVs who can be bought off on the cheap, I am afraid we will continue to see this trend ever on the rise. Please do not get me wrong, I am all for helping someone out to pull them up from their temporary hard times, but not as a way of permanent life style. As I have said before, we need to take a good look at our half-baked Senators and Representatives and if they are not really helping in solving these problems, we (you) need to vote them out. That is the only type of language they understand……they work for us. The 2014 &2016 elections will be the real bell weather on the future of which way our country will go.

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  4. jb80538Comment by jb80538
    September 19, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    It’s kind of like pelosi saying all those unemployment checks create jobs.
    Libs are mentally ill!

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  5. TWM1942Comment by TWM1942
    September 19, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

    What economic recovery. The news media continues to write articles about this fictitious recovery to reconcile the fact that they were responsible for Obama getting elected and destroying this country.

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  6. shafawnComment by shafawn
    September 19, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

    http://www.financialsense.com/financial-sense-newshour/guest-expert/2012/05/08/john-williams/the-real-unemployment-rate-the-coming-fiscal-cliff

    The real unemployment rate is 22% not 8%
    I thought we all already knew that.

    If I actually believed the real unemployment rate was 8% I’d have to be a small child and not yet eligible to get a job.

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  7. chamuielComment by chamuiel
    September 19, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

    Seriously, why are people buying organic fruits and vegetables and goat cheese with food stamps?

    Is this just more examples of the beach bum in Kalifornia buying lobster with food stamps?

    Isn’t regular fruits and vegetables and cheese good enough for these people?

    It is for me, and I do not get food stamps.

    Then again I cannot afford organic fruits, vegetables, and goat cheese.

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    • StephComment by Steph
      September 22, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

      I wondered the same thing – who can afford organic these days? Especially those of us on a fixed income? Here on the “left coast”, hubby and I see EBT holders driving Cadillac Escalades, living in 3000 sq. ft. homes, buying the most expensive foods and meats. We certainly can’t do that. We live mostly on chicken and ground beef. There is nothing wrong with those two meats but it is certainly not steak or lobster! They are what we can afford and we have been getting very creative in our cooking/eating. Good thing we are getting older and can’t eat as much as we used. I can’t imagine trying to feed hungry kids and teenagers! I keep hearing about recovery but I surely don’t see it at the supermarket. Everything is more expensive.

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  8. oldsaltydawgComment by oldsaltydawg
    September 19, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

    Everyone with a BRAIN knows the NUMBERS LIE. I mean that the only reason the jobless rate is dropping is that people have stopped looking for WORK. Obama is using the LIES so he can DESTROY America and sadly Americans are helping him do it and are glad to help him. Obama is WORTHLESS and he is doing everything he can to make America WORTHLESS as he is and it is not a good thing. So Obama and his thugs need to go and then we can get back to doing what we should have been doing for a very long time looking after America first then the rest of the world when America is in good shape.

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    • skipper2Comment by skipper2
      September 21, 2013 @ 9:19 pm

      There are a number of places in which people are “tossed out” of the unemployment count. Since only people who are drawing unemployment checks are in that number (it’s ostensibly the only means the Labor Department has to ascertain the unemployment rate–which, of course, is total nonsense and is completely disconnected from reality), significant “others” are not counted. That would include those who have been forced into an early retirement, generally making between 1/6 – 1/3 of their working pay from IRAs and company pensions. It would include those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits and still don’t have a job. They’re not counted as employed. They aren’t counted at all. From the Labor Department’s perspective, they don’t exist any more than those forced into an early retirement. Certainly can’t count those forced out of high paying jobs and into part-time jobs. They’re employed. There is no factor in this number showing the ability to make ends meet in those cases. The real truth is that the average household income continues to decline in this “recovery”. The notion of a “recovery” is so upside down with respect to reality that I cannot understand how anyone can buy into the lie that America is into a recovery. Those whose lives are unchanged (i.e., they’ve been on the government dole from start to finish) keep voting these jackals into office. For them, nothing has changed. For the rest of us, reality is a bit clearer.

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  9. jholl99Comment by jholl99
    September 19, 2013 @ 8:25 pm

    I wonder how much of that 13.6% is made up of illegal immigrants? Maybe if they cut them off of it, citizens wouldn’t have to suffer for it. Same goes for medical, housing, and income.

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  10. tomtComment by tomt
    September 19, 2013 @ 9:10 pm

    I was reading a commentary yesterday on Yahoo of a person complaining he cannot live on $4.50/day for food. People today do not know how to purchase the essential food ingredients and prepare their nutritious meals.
    A sack of wheat and corn flour, a sack of beans and rice and a few chickens, when on sale, you stock up. Hit the produce and small animal auctions . Go hunting and fishing. Learn to survive.
    Yes I have noticed the Food Stampers when shopping do not compare prices nor buy properly. A meat department friend told me, they do not need an increased spending allotment, when, they are the ones that can take the best expensive cuts of meat and expensive seafood paid for by the Gooberment.
    They do have to use all of the card limit they are given or it is reduced the following month.

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    • chamuielComment by chamuiel
      September 20, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

      What/ You expect these food stamp recipients to cook? Where would they find the time while watching Survival, and American Idol?

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  11. BohdanUke1Comment by BohdanUke1
    September 20, 2013 @ 4:05 am

    Are y’all havin’ fun yet?

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  12. diamondjimComment by diamondjim
    September 20, 2013 @ 8:11 am

    And, had mjz4043 followed that well-dressed black woman buying steaks and Starbucks coffee packs with food stamps out to the parking lot, she might have been equally surprised at what she was driving. Statistically, more white people get food stamps than minority groups nationwide, but where I live it is mostly blacks and Hispanics I see flashing the EBT cards then driving away from the supermarket in a late model SUV, Lexus, or Mercedes. I don’t know how they qualify for food stamps,but many have apparently learned how to game the system to get maximum benefits.

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    • mjz4043Comment by mjz4043
      September 20, 2013 @ 9:50 am

      This happened to a friend of mine. She ran to Walmart rather late one evening to grab a bottle of cough syrup for her little boy. She got behind a young Mexican woman, nicely dressed, who pulled out a Coach wallet exactly like the one my friend had. This is a $250 wallet and had been a gift from her parents. Then the Mexican woman pulled out a Texas food card! That upset my friend, but it upset her more when she was immediately behind that woman as she left the store since she only had one item to pay for and that woman got into a big, new SUV while my friend got into her 10 yo Jeep. This same friend moved to a new area and went to her neighborhood school to find out what accommodations they would make for her some with 165 IQ. The principal said she would see that he was challenged with some extra work and my friend told her that while she had endless accommodations for non-English, non-citizen ILLEGAL immigrants, she would give her son *extra work*. My friend ended up paying $1200 a month for a good private school. I volunteered at that particular school one time and I would not put my child in it either.

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    • chamuielComment by chamuiel
      September 20, 2013 @ 11:17 am

      diamondjim,

      “Statistically, more white people get food stamps than minority groups nationwide”

      Since White people make up 73% of the U.S. population and blacks make up 14%, you would think that Whites in any group you choose to pick would statistically out number blacks by a significant margin.

      How ever that is not true as blacks do 50% of all shootings, and 70% of all crimes. I suppose those blacks are just over achievers.

      From what I have personally seen there are more black abusing food stamps than there are whites.

      Behind a black lady in a check out line, she had a basket with nothing but steaks in it, just full of steaks. She paid for them with an EBT card. The clerk said, “wow! Your family must like steaks.”

      Her reply was those steaks were going to be sold in her restaurant.

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    • chamuielComment by chamuiel
      September 20, 2013 @ 11:24 am

      mjz4043,

      you friend can afford 1200 a month for a private school, but cannot afford anything better than a 10 year old jeep?

      Something smells about your story, as in HUH?

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  13. joejacksonComment by joejackson
    September 20, 2013 @ 8:27 am

    When we have a President who lies with every utterance and cannot be believed in any number he publishes e.g. unemployment at 7.3% actually it is 18% if the same method was used today as when he began. Obama has failed in every area and should be impeached before he gives Assad $1 billion dollars as Assad is asking. In the faculty lounges where most of Obama’s ideas come from dealing with muslim killers is n opt discussed they assume they can talk with anyone and win them over. You see how Putin, Assad and the world laughs at our leader to his face. Obama is an embarrassment.

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    • ksr1Comment by ksr1
      September 20, 2013 @ 11:30 am

      @JJ – The fact the world laughs at the “Anointed One” directly in the face really is of no importance to him since he is so clueless. I happened to have seen the entire script of Assad’s “letter” to the “Great One” and from reading it, the whole thing reminds me of the Nigerian email scam which could have been written by the “Great One’s” family members back in Africa. What a joke! But just knowing the current state of affairs, what’s a Billion here or there (more or less). He organized Chicago with wonderful results … now it’s the world he going after The next thing out of his mouth will be “since we have now got the “ACA” up and running, and with all the money we will save on health care, we can surely afford a mere $1B for the Assad camp”. (sic) Let us all hope for a sane outcome in 2014 & 2016!

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