Half of US kids will be on food stamps during their childhood, according to a new report by Washington University in St. Louis. That’s half the kids on the school bus, half the kids at the park, half the kids out trick or treating last weekend. And in some communities that experience a higher burden of poverty, the numbers are far higher. 90% of African American kids will be on food stamps at some point during childhood.
"This is a real danger sign that we as a society need to do a lot more to protect children," states lead author of the study, Pr
ofessor Mark Rank. The results in the report come from an analysis of 30 years of national data.
The numbers may be a danger sign, but they are also a reminder of how critical it is preserve food stamps and improve families’ access to healthy food.
The good news is that the report confirms that food stamps are helping families put food on the table when parents are between jobs or when income drops for other reasons. On the other hand, data show that families receiving food stamps are often relying on benefits as the primary source of funds for food. Despite modest increases in benefit amounts in the last two years, families only get a fraction of their food needs covered by food stamps. That means that even with food stamps, families are cutting corners at the dinner table - often by having a parent skip a meal or eating less fresh foods that cost more.
In Washington State, the latest data from the USDA indicate that 835,000 adults and kids are on food stamps. That’s a 48% increase from a year ago. The increase stems partly from a policy change we won which increased the income limit for the program, and partly from rising poverty. Find out about the other strategies we’re working on to keep kids fed in our Plan to End Childhood Hunger.
Two additional items about this story sparked our interest:
First, the study is published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Report authors say pediatricians need to pay attention to these numbers because children on food stamps are more at risk for malnutrition, stress-related illness, and other ill-effects of poverty.
Second, it makes us wonder, as economic hardship spreads more widely and hits families more acutely will the debate shift too?
“Recessionary challenges have pushed food-stamp reliance to an all-time high… Shifting economic realities redefine what constitutes being "poor."… Those handing over food stamps to a grocery-store cashier can be, and are, our neighbors and former co-workers.
Will more people see themselves in statistics about poverty, hunger and economic struggles? Will our leaders prioritize policies that keep people safe, housed and fed? Time will tell. What do you think? Post your comment below.
-by Siobhan Ring