In response to yesterday's post on Matt Varilek's proper support of food stampsÂ (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP), I heard a Facebook commenter fulminate about the "crazy increase" in food stamp enrollment. Sure, more people are using food stamps, but that's not a reason to cut food stamps; that's a sign that the safety net is doing exactly what it's supposed to: help people in need during hard times. Only Republican logic could tell us that we should pull the safety net back right when more people are falling into difficulty.
The safety net for single mothers and their children has developed a gaping hole over the past dozen years. This is a major cause of the dramatic increase in extreme poverty during those years. The census tells us that 20.5 million people earn incomes below half the poverty line, less than about $9,500 for a family of three â€” up eight million from 2000.
Why? A substantial reason is the near demise of welfare â€” now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. In the mid-90s more than two-thirds of children in poor families received welfare. But that number has dwindled over the past decade and a half to roughly 27 percent.
One result: six million people have no income other than food stamps. Food stamps provide an income at a third of the poverty line, close to $6,300 for a family of three. Itâ€™s hard to understand how they survive.
At least we have food stamps. They have been a powerful antirecession tool in the past five years, with the number of recipients rising to 46 million today from 26.3 million in 2007. By contrast, welfare has done little to counter the impact of the recession; although the number of people receiving cash assistance rose from 3.9 million to 4.5 million since 2007, many states actually reduced the size of their rolls and lowered benefits to those in greatest need [Peter Edleman, "Poverty in America: Why Can't We End It?" New York Times, 2012.07.28].
SNAP and TANF are necessary but not sufficient for fighting poverty. We wouldn't need SNAP and TANF if every job paid a living wage. But the vaunted Job Creators at whose feet we are to lay all manner of tribute are falling down on that job:
The first thing needed if weâ€™re to get people out of poverty is more jobs that pay decent wages. There arenâ€™t enough of these in our current economy....
...Weâ€™ve been drowning in a flood of low-wage jobs for the last 40 years. Most of the income of people in poverty comes from work....
Half the jobs in the nation pay less than $34,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute. A quarter pay below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually. Families that can send another adult to work have done better, but single mothers (and fathers) donâ€™t have that option. Poverty among families with children headed by single mothers exceeds 40 percent.
Wages for those who work on jobs in the bottom half have been stuck since 1973, increasing just 7 percent [Edelman, 2012.07.28].
The Job Creators are doing a great job kicking more wealth up the ladder to themselves, but they're leaving more Job Doers in poverty. The people shouting loudest about class warfare are the ones trying to keep from noticing that they are waging it quite successfully against us. And the longer they can scapegoat the people working hardest for the least reward, the longer they can hoard our wealth.