In Light Of Census Numbers, Cutting SNAP Would Be Irresponsible

The Census released its annual income and poverty report this week, which, among other highlights, calculates the number of people who are kept out of poverty by various government assistance programs. While many of the headline numbers stayed the same, the number of people kept out of poverty by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increased to an all-time high of 4 million people.1

The data arrived, coincidentally, as the House of Representatives announced it will be voting today to cut SNAP spending by 5 percent over the next 10 years, cutting 3.8 million people from the program by as early as next year. Understanding why SNAP has increased over the last five years helps us understand why it would be irresponsible–indeed cruel and stupid—to cut spending on the program now.

The Census report confirmed that the vast majority of American households have made only slight progress in recovering from the Great Recession. The number people in poverty remained at 15 percent of the population (unchanged from 2011), and incomes remain substantially lower than they were before the recession began for all but the top 5 percent of the income distribution. Between 2011 and 2012, earnings for full time full year workers hardly budged—not surprising given the employment-to-population ratio is 4.4 percentage points below its 2007 level. The reduced bargaining power that results from a lack of outside job opportunities hurt earnings growth even for those with full-time, full-year work. Americans who utilize SNAP, therefore, are no better off this year they were last year.

As of 2011, about 45 million people (more than 1 in 7 Americans) participate in SNAP. Over 41 percent of all recipients live in households where family members are employed; these are largely families that have been left behind by a deeply damaged labor market. Beyond increasing deprivation for these families, the proposed cuts to SNAP would damage the overall labor market even further. Nearly all macroeconomic forecasters agree that food stamps are among the most effective forms of fiscal support to create economic activity and jobs in an economy where there is tremendous slack in the labor market. This is because food stamps go to people that are by definition cash strapped, which means they spend the money right away, putting the cash received directly back into local businesses and grocery stores. Because of this high propensity to spend SNAP dollars, estimates are that each dollar spent on SNAP generates $1.50 to $1.70 in additional economic activity. This means that the $75 billion spent on food stamps in 2012 supported roughly $120 billion in overall economic activity.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor seems to think that cutting these benefits will make people more self-sufficient, but today’s economic problem is not that Americans are unwilling to work, it’s that there are not enough jobs. At a time when unemployment is still above 7 percent, Congress should instead be working to deliver a jobs program for Americans, not cutting the few resources going to families that need them most. Cutting these benefits, would simply be a mistake for families and a mistake for the economy.


1. The official poverty measure includes cash income only; 4 million is, therefore, the number of people kept out of poverty if SNAP benefits were included as money income.

  • w nieder

    Can either author tell my, why able man or women should a check to do nothing? Furthermore, this program does not generate any economic activity as suggested, as this is nothing more than a wealth transfer from the worker bees..

    • jodyjean0821

      Nobody is writing people checks to sit around all day. If that were true, why would ANYONE work? At the very least, the number of unemployed would be much larger than it is. Don’t you think? Sure, you have the noble or proud, but I’d be willing to bet at least 45 percent would chose the free money option. I’d consider it! Second, people who are on SNAP are required to be employed at least part-time or to attend a job search program. A mom who just gave birth is one exception, but there are time limits on that, too. Maybe you feel everyone should work full-time to get benefits, but not everything is perfect at all times for anyone. I used them when I was in college, working part-time, newly sigle with a 1 year old. I was 26 years old & my life fell apart; slowly things got better & today I’m happily married with 3 gorgeous kids. But those food stamps FED us those first years! We would have STARVED or I would have had to steal; are those good options for you as long as it didn’t come out of YOUR wallet? Really.

      • w nieder

        JJ, you can not be serious…At least 10% of the American population would take a welfare check and watch TV all day..

        You are wong Jody, because most American want to be productive and be satisfied by their labors…

        Oh sure, the job search program, just like unenjoyment…

        I am glad thing work out for you but you would never have STARVED nor steal as you suggested because you must have birth providers or friends or a food self near you…

        I do not mind helfing people, but like everyone else WORK for it and do not be a parasite (not referring to you in general)…

        As a God fearing man, it is my duty to assist those less fortune than me, but I am not a work slave either…

        If you do drugs or do not want to work, no helping hand…

        • jodyjean0821

          Thanks for taking the time to consider what I had to say & for replying. I agree most people enjoy being productive & being proud of themselves at the end of the day. I don’t know WHY I picked 45 percent; I considered other numbers, but went with 50/50 (with the majority picking work). The number is probably much less, but people surprise me all the time… I’m with you on the drug thing, as my son’s father ended up on them, which is basically how I found myself in the position I was in. Great guy, together for years, then little by little, he just slipped away. What I LEARNED from it tho is: you can’t MAKE anyone do anything. Kinda like with welfare. And you can’t wipe out a program that really does help a lot of people because SOME chose to be lazy. So it makes u mad, but what can you do? Any ideas?

          • w nieder

            Hats off to you, Jody, for being responsible and taking charge of your life, especially being a single birth provider (formerly known as mother)

            America became great because of sweat and tears and not food stamps or Social Justice programs..

            Raise your children that way and you will have done your patriotic duty…

          • jodyjean0821

            Thank you, W Nieder. I’ve enjoyed our candor. Good sailing, sir! :)

        • jodyjean0821

          Also, I’ve been wondering lately: Are there enough jobs that pay a living wage for every person in America so we wouldn’t need social programs at all? Where everyone has a job to pay all their bills, no need for help? I’m thinking there aren’t, but I’m interested in what others think.

          • w nieder

            Jody, America is losing it’s economic might because of big government with too much regulations and high taxes…

            More economic freedoms and we shall grow and prosper with good standard of living, as before..

            The bigger the government gets, the smaller you and I get…

  • Until people come to actually understand that one person’s spending is another person’s income, and what that means in terms of economic activity, ridiculous counter-productive policies will continue to be supported by an unwitting citizenry.

    • w nieder

      Water, soon everyone will be spending the few’s money…