But the Economy is Getting Better and Better...

Shockingly (or not so much, if you read here regularly), despite the supposed improvements in the economy, more and more American families are struggling to put meals on the table.  The USDA reports a record 46.7 million American households are on food stamps.  17.9 % of American households (up 700,000 from 2010) didn't have enough food at least some of the time.  In addition, the number of households with "very low food security"  - meaning people regularly go hungry rose by almost half a million households - as high as at the height of the economic crisis.  Notably, this is data that covers a period BEFORE the current spike in food prices.

This is really important stuff, although it got very little news attention when it was released yesterday - probably because we're used to bad news on this front.  Enrollment in SNAP (aka "Food Stamps") is particularly important because it represents something we don't really like to talk about - despite America's wealth, food is a serious issue for a lot of households.  The dramatic rise (up over 3% from last year and more than doubled since 2003) in food stamp use to one in seven households (and one in four households with children in it) means a lot of things.  First, that in an era of increasingly volatile household costs, food is the thing that goes by the wayside.

It also means, though, that quietly, covertly, subtly, America has become a nation that MUST subsidize food for its people, because otherwise, the consequences are real hunger - we are now dependent on those food subsidies and they reverbate through a whole host of things.  Our agricultural policy, for example, is shaped by the opposition of many anti-poverty activists to any major changes that might reduce the supply of industrial food coming into food pantries.  The dollars the government spends on SNAP by and large go into the industrial food system (I should be clear, I deeply support SNAP, but I think it could be restructured to do more to help grow the kind of food system we need for the future)  And fundamentally, nations subsidize food because they are afraid of the consequences of hunger they know is lurking - we are like Saudi Arabia and China in that respect - a program that feeds 1 in 7  is not a safety net, it is a subsidy.

The children who come to my house live in households that experience this profound hunger in many cases. That the absolute number of seriously hungry people are rising is not a surprise - but the face of it is different when you are daily confronted with it.  Taking children to the farmer's market and having them panic, literally shaking in fear because they do not know if there will be enough money for them to get anything to eat, having them hoard food because food has never been a reliable part of their lives will make you feel just how hard this change is.  And it isn't going in any direction that looks good.




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I am still trying to get my used to the idea of the Arctic Ocean melting to a complete ice-out, at least seasonally, before this decade is out. Who knows what will happen to weather and climate systems then, but having an entire ocean ice free, one that has been largely covered by ice for all of human history, as far as we can tell, can't be good for stable farm operations and hence, stable food prices. I was going to link to Stuart Staniford's blog entry from last week on the subject, but I just looked and there's yet a new entry up. Abrupt climate change is with us just about now: http://earlywarn.blogspot.com/2012/09/thursday-links.html


After this past summer's drought, can we possibly hope for better national and international weather in light of recent Arctic Ocean developments? I wish.

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 06 Sep 2012 #permalink

Oops, that last comment got moderated due to multiple links contained within it.

Sharon, please see moderated comments being withheld :-)

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 06 Sep 2012 #permalink

I am happy for the support of the Fair Food Network who I believe is supporting a program for us in MI that for the 1st $20 you spend in food stamps at the market gets you another $20 to spend on fruits and vegs. I have four children and my husband and I. those extra fruit and veggies help us tremendously. I think this may be nationally I am not sure.

An economist will tell you about leading indicators and trailing indicators. The short version is that a leading indicator is great for speculators and if you don't need help, and that's what drives the market. The trailing indicators are when everyone else gets screwed.

As long as we continue to not include volatile items like food and medicine in the office inflation index, the official economic indicators will make everything look better than it is.

On the other hand, while the US subsidizes food, we are still living in a country where the average household spends only 10% of their income on food. When you compare that to the global south where the figures are 50% it does show we are still far better off and less vulnerable to food price fluctuations. That relative steadiness in food pricing also helps the households here that are well below the average of 10% of income.

If the 46.7M households number is correct, that represents over 40% of all households.

40%! Let that sink in for a bit.

@Brian M: I think that's 46.7M individuals, not households. Which is still too many (about 1 in 7).

At these levels, SNAP is basically protection against revolution, as Sharon's mention of Saudi Arabia and China implies. People who have nothing have nothing to lose.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 06 Sep 2012 #permalink

Nicole, how are those food subsidies paid for?


Taxes which the poor do not pay, having too little to register.

Taxes which the middle class which could pay if it weren't for the fact that their numbers are being decimated.

Taxes which the rich avoid paying.

Taxes which the government are not allowed on pain of a thousand whines to implement on either businesses or the rich.

Shockingly, I think the number is 1 in 7 "households." That is because the majority of those households are single mothers and their children.

One thing I don't understand is a person who works at a food-bank, and then turns around and wants to end food stamps, WIC, health care for low income children, etc. (I personally know someone like this, and I just don't get it.)

It seems to me that there are a lot of needs that must be satisfied, for the benefit of everyone in our society. For example, it is to society's benefit if ALL of our children grow up to become the best adults possible, and thereby contributing members of our society. It is well understood that good nutrition, health care and education are vital components of a child's ability to achieve such outcomes. While it is not an ideal solution, and there is plenty of room for improvement, government provides a convenient way to meet such needs. Granted, government programs fall down all of the time. However, much of the moneyed private sector has repeatedly shown us that it has no interest in taking care such needs. So, that leaves the rest of us to pool our resources (via taxes) to run government programs (however unsatisfactory). Sadly, I don't foresee that changing in the future.


which WORLD-VIEW will not exist, sh*thead?


5000 whining atheists vs the Great Prophet

how the divine pen of Michel N. crushed the international atheist movement



one applicant right here...

get the POINT, Randi....

Is there any point to your existence, xjus, or are you an arsehole professionally?

Eleanor, you inadvertently managed to answer your own question.

Propoganda has taken hold *deeply* that the government are incapable monsters out to kill your freedoms and that private industry (as the result of "personal freedom and initiative") will provide ANYTHING that's needed.

How did you answer the question, you say?

Because the propoganda has hit you and you didn't even notice it.

"Granted, government programs fall down all of the time."

Why granted? Why bring it up at all? 90% of new ventures fail. These are not government programs. They too fail all the time. It is no differentiator for why government programs should not be used, is it.

So why did you say it?

The propoganda that government is ALWAYS crap is deep in there. And your fellow USians have it just as bad. So even when rooting for a government program, you HAVE to profess how bad it is. Even though it is not warranted.

Now think of those less educated than you. Will they even bother to think that these programs would not be done by private industry if there were demand? No.

So the only reason why it isn't being done is because government wants to control you. (at least it is one conclusion they would have under the same psychological pressures).

That Xjus comment reminds me of the crazy anti-vaccine guy from a couple of months back who also kept addressing people that don't have anything to do with this site.

Methinks someone needs to have his hand-puppets taken from him and to spend some time on the "naughty step".

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 07 Sep 2012 #permalink

Far from America being a country that MUST subsidise food, America is a country that, for purely ideological reasons, subsidises, takes a vast amount of food off the market and subsidises turning it into the world's most expensive oil. This obviously drives up the price of what is left.

The economy may now be growing slightly because, despite the best efforts of Obama, shale gas has substantially reduced energy costs. However the HOUSE countries (humanity outwith the US & Europe) continue to grow at 7% annually. Obviously the USA could do the same if those in control wanted it to.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 07 Sep 2012 #permalink

You thinking of the multiple socks of BuckTheTrend, Richard?

Neil is spot on about the ethanol subsidies.

It's crazy to pay to turn grain into food for vehicles while also trying to feed people.

(I can't let the opportunity to agree with Neil slip away. It might never happen again :-) )

By Stephen B. (not verified) on 07 Sep 2012 #permalink

Who demanded them?

The corn lobby.

Sensible countries would do this:


Mind, you, the USA only uses 3.7% of their corn for ethanol, there's not a lot of "saving" to be done.

And, since the majority of the corn is fed to cattle, which is pretty inefficient in production (only about 10% efficient), you'd be far far better off not producing corn at all but something more suitable for human consumption.

If you're *actually* worried about human food being wasted, that is...

Thanks Stephen for the virtually unique experience of finding somebody on "scienceblogs", or indeed the "environmental" movement as a whole willing to admit when the movement has got something obviously and glaringly wrong. Perhaps soon we will see some prominent spokesman admitting that Ehrlich's vaunted promise that life expectancy in New York would drop to 42 because of pollution, by the end of the 1970s, didn't completely come true ;-)

Wow's claim that it wuznae us is more typical of the genre.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 08 Sep 2012 #permalink

Ah, whiner is doing the work of his betters again.

Pity he couldn't find anyone worthy.

Ah yes, i'd forgotten his name Wow. So much crazy, so many more important things to remember.

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 14 Sep 2012 #permalink

As normal no attempt to debate facts simply relying on rudeness,

. That is why every single honest "environmentalist" on "scienceblogs" has denounced Wow & co as the corrupt econazis they so obviously are. But only every one.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 17 Sep 2012 #permalink

Yup, why do you keep being rude and avoid any fact, whiner?

Or is "corrupt econazis" polite in your alternative universe?

Its polite about you laddie.
I have repeatedly proven everything I have said about you or the other econazis so it is not rudeness it is proven fact.
You have bnever allowed your filth to be polluted by any trace of fact or honesty.

By Neil Craig (not verified) on 21 Sep 2012 #permalink