Food Stamp Use Near Record Thanks to "Vanishing Jobs"
That's quite a melodramatic headline over Monday's front-page story by Eric Eckholm, "As Jobs Vanish and Prices Rise, Food Stamp Use Nears Record," a story that hardly needed additional negative emphasis.
For one thing, what "vanishing jobs"? The national unemployment rate for February was 4.8%, unchanged from January. The headline writer's source seems to be a Congressional Budget Office report "Citing expected growth in unemployment." No jobs have "vanished" yet, but that doesn't stop the Times.
Driven by a painful mix of layoffs and rising food and fuel prices, the number of Americans receiving food stamps is projected to reach 28 million in the coming year, the highest level since the aid program began in the 1960s.
The number of recipients, who must have near-poverty incomes to qualify for benefits averaging $100 a month per family member, has fluctuated over the years along with economic conditions, eligibility rules, enlistment drives and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, which led to a spike in the South.
But recent rises in many states appear to be resulting mainly from the economic slowdown, officials and experts say, as well as inflation in prices of basic goods that leave more families feeling pinched. Citing expected growth in unemployment, the Congressional Budget Office this month projected a continued increase in the monthly number of recipients in the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 - to 28 million, up from 27.8 million in 2008, and 26.5 million in 2007.
Deep into Eckholm's actual piece, he found other contributing factors, such as the fact that governments are actually advertising the programs to get more people to use them.
Contributing to the rise, she added, Michigan, like many other states, has also worked to make more low-end workers aware of their eligibility, and a switch from coupons to electronic debit cards has reduced the stigma.
But access by legal immigrants has been partly restored and, in the current decade, the federal and state governments have used advertising and other measures to inform people of their eligibility and have often simplified application procedures.
Because they spend a higher share of their incomes on basic needs like food and fuel, low-income Americans have been hit hard by soaring gasoline and heating costs and jumps in the prices of staples like milk, eggs and bread.
At the same time, average family incomes among the bottom fifth of the population have been stagnant or have declined in recent years at levels around $15,500, said Jared Bernstein, an economistat the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
There was no labeling for the liberal groups Economic Policy Institute or the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, although the latter garnered two citations in the story. Eckholm has cited CBPP without a liberal label before, simply calling it "a private group."
In the end, Eckholm put most of the blame for the increase in food stamp use on "economic hardship," while lamenting that the benefit isn't as generous as it once was, noting a "gradual erosion of their value."
It's a safe bet that stories like this - use of a welfare program rising to record heights under George W. Bush - won't stop the spread of the pernicious idea among liberals and their media allies that the Bush administration has been an 8-year failed experiment in dogmatic free-market theory.