The WSJ blog Real Time Economics reports that about 15% of the US is on food stamps. David Hackett Fischer’s “backcountry” part of the US figures heavily, as do a few other states.
I’ve read that the Obama administration has sought to make it easier for people to get food stamps, and this of course has differing interpretations. One is that they genuinely want struggling people to get the extra help they need. The other is that expanding the program—making more people dependent on the government and on this administration specifically—bolsters their chances for the next election. Since the decision did not spring forth from Obama’s forehead alone we can fairly assume a mix of the two. But clearly, in an ideal world, nobody would be on food stamps. How can we get there from here?
Here I’m going to rely on some anecdotal evidence, but since I was the observer I trust it. I lived in New Mexico recently, and between finishing college, being underemployed, and partying probably a little too much I knew lots of people on food stamps. The impression that I got, overwhelmingly, was that very few people consider food stamps a temporary measure. People might not have thought about food stamps all that much, but when it occurred to them that they could qualify, many of them considered it free money for the taking. From what I could observe, it didn’t correlate with a change in anyone’s behavior all that much, and when it did, not for what an omnipotent but benevolent observer would consider the better. You were poor, you got food stamps, and then you were slightly less poor. End of story.
I don’t doubt that many people who get food stamps want to make their journey through those ranks as short as possible, or that many people actually do land that next job and leave the program. But I’m not sure at all that in the bulk of cases there’s a lot that can be done, policy-wise, to get people out of the program other than tightening the conditions of the program.