The Explosive Growth of SNAP

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The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was called food stamps in its previous incarnation.  Today, recipients get a refillable debit card instead of actual pieces of paper.  Ah, progress.  This article takes a quick look at the explosive growth of SNAP during the Obama Administration.  Data is from a page on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.  I have also used data on the U.S. consumer price index (CPI) published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  (I actually used the handy FRED data tool from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.  This nifty Excel add-on lets you download and update macroeconomic data series from within Excel.)  As always, my data and methodology is transparent: click here for an Excel 2011 workbook that includes all the data series and graphs.

And explosive is the correct word.  By any measure there has been a steep, sharp increase in SNAP over the past four years.  About the only things that have remained relatively constant are the real per person and per household benefits.

SNAP Consumers Relative to Population

The first indicator is SNAP recipients as a percentage of population.

SNAP recipients as a percentage of population

SNAP recipients as a percentage of population

In 2008, roughly one in ten U.S. people received SNAP assistance.  Today that number is one in every 6.6.  An increase of five percentage points in four years qualifies as explosive growth.

A Bit of Good News

Real per person and per household spending on the program has remained relatively constant (after a spike in early 2009).

Real SNAP spending per person and per household

Real SNAP spending per person and per household

But Other Measures Show Rapid Growth

The number of people and households receiving SNAP assistance have also increased rapidly.’

Number of SNAP recipients

Number of SNAP recipients

That’s a 54.69% increase in people and a 65.27% increase in households over a four year period.  That’s 11.5 percent per year for people and 13.4 percent per year for households.  If employment had grown at 1/4 those rates I’d be a happy economist.

Finally, we need to look at total real SNAP spending.

Real SNAP spending

Real SNAP spending

Conclusion

The numbers speak for themselves.  I can only add a question: is this really the country we want to live in?