What does the familiar assurance that the U.S. is the richest country in the world mean in times like these? Look at individual Americans just now and you see more and more signs of psychically stressful, health-threatening want. One such sign is the growing number of people whose only steady income is their allotment of food stamps.
As of September, according to Reuters, more than 37 million people, or about one out of every eight Americans, were food stamp recipients. That's nearly 35 percent more than were receiving them just prior to the crash of 2007. (In particular, usage increased among military families in 2008, the Defense Department reported, with Armed Forces families signing up for the stamps at nearly twice the rate of civilian households—another sign that those who bear the battle are also bearing more than their share of the cost of the war.)
Of the 37 million receiving food stamps, about 6 million have no stable income other than the stamps, the New York Times reports. The Times recently collected food stamp data for 31 states. Its results, projected over the entire population of food stamp users, indicated that about one in 50 Americans has no other regular income source.
The figures for Massachusetts show that the number of people reporting no steady income but food stamps rose from 90,395 in 2007 to 139,758 in 2009, for an increase of 55 percent. That's higher than in Maine, where the number increased by 46 percent during those two years, but lower than in Vermont, where it increased by 66 percent.
According to the Times, the number of people with no steady income except the stamps doubled in Florida over that period, breaking out at 42 percent white, 32 percent black and 22 percent Latino. In Nevada it nearly tripled. In the Detroit area, the Times found, "one of every 25 residents reports an income of only food stamps."
The Times cautioned that the figures are fluid because some people find another other source of income—from work or from other programs—within a very short time after such surveys. But until the unemployment rate falls, as some pull out of this plight, others will fall into it.