The thing about being on food stamps is it comes with a lot of relative anonymity. Except for the times when they’re being used or talked about, nobody knows who’s on food stamps. Recipients don’t walk around with a giant neon sign on them, drive in a specific lane on the freeway, or have to enter buildings through a special door. Because of that anonymity, it’s pretty easy to walk down the sidewalk and pass someone on food stamps without even knowing it. And with one in seven Americans on food stamps, it happens far more often than you think.
The next time you see a soldier, don’t automatically assume they’re making a comfortable living. Military personnel have quadrupled their use of food stamps in the last eight years, comprising $103.6 million in the program. With a soldier’s base level pay of only $20,000 (food and housing are extra) and an unemployment rate of 30 percent in 2012 of spouses of active-duty military personnel (aged 18 to 24), it’s not surprising that this demographic is so large.
Farm Workers and Migrant Workers
This is a bit of a tricky category because most farm workers don’t get public benefits. The nature of their job means their employers are exempt from the things “normal” employers are, like unemployment taxes. And even though almost a third (30 percent) of farmworkers earn an income below the federal poverty line (an average of $10,000 to $12,500 a year), only 8 percent of them are on food stamps.
Those in college already face a tough time trying to afford skyrocketing tuition and bleak job prospects after graduation, but now they have another problem on their plates: figuring out where to find money to eat. In 2001, only 5.4 percent of students aged 19 to 24 were on food stamps, but that number more than doubled to 12.6 percent in only nine years. Further, more students than applied would actually fit the criteria for receiving food stamps, with 6.4 percent in the program but three times that eligible (note: this applies at CUNY where a 2010 report was carried out).
Children, Disabled and Elderly People
This demographic overwhelmingly makes up the vast majority of food stamps recipients, as a total of 76 percent of all households in the SNAP program are them. And when looking at how much of the total SNAP benefits they receive, this demographic gets 83 percent. Far more than three-quarters of all SNAP benefits go to the young, the old and the infirmed.
Food Industry Workers
Their wages average $9.65 an hour, 86 percent don’t earn a livable wage, and their work translates into yearly sales of $1.8 trillion. And yet, roughly 14 percent of food industry workers are on food stamps, which is almost twice as much as the average of 8.3 percent for all the other industries. With over 80 percent of them never having been promoted, earning enough to get off food stamps is an extremely tough prospect.