About 45 million people in the U.S. receive food stamps. That's about 14% of the American population. For 6 million Americans, food stamps constitutes their only income. 55% of food stamp households include children. 14% include a disabled member. 9% include someone over the age of 60.
And if you don't think protecting food stamps is a racial justice issue, about a quarter of food stamp households are headed by African Americans, making them the most over-represented group on the program. The largest group of recipients by race, about 41 percent, are white. But as a portion of the white population, only eight of every 100 whites receive food stamps compared with about a fourth of African American households.
Attacking food stamps is a play for suburban white middle class voters, just as is attacking Obamacare (a program that most benefits the uninsured, among whom just over half are people of color) by telling the lie that it is financed by stealing money from Medicare (a program that mostly benefits whites).
But, put the race politics aside and it's pretty clear that food stamps mainly benefit the most vulnerable parts of the population. We should be happy that a program exists to provide food assistance for so many. Obviously, a lot of us are not.
But maybe they would change their minds if they knew that about 10% of groceries in the U.S. are purchased with food stamps. In other words, food stamps subsidize farmers and grocers, something that should matter to us if we're concerned about bringing down the unemployment rate and reducing the deficit.
In the poorest communities, food stamps often constitute half or more of grocers' revenues. Those stores would go out of business without the program, creating food deserts, especially in rural areas, and exacerbating unemployment and poverty.
Moreover, contrary to popular belief, 41% of all food stamp participants in 2010 lived in a household with earnings. For many, food stamps make up the gap between what they are paid as workers, and what it actually costs to eat regularly. For employers of low-wage workers, food stamps supplement sub-livable wages, functioning as a form of federal subsidy to business owners.
Concerned about our men and women in uniform? The proposed budget for defense for 2013 is around $525 billion. Yet, many active duty military personnel don't earn enough to feed their families.
Active duty pay for an E1 (entry level enlisted person) is about $18,000 per year. A family of two earning $19,680 per year or less may qualify for food stamps. Even a Staff Sergeant with 2 years of experience earns less than the food stamps income eligibility level of just over $28,000 per year for a family of four.
The fact that we pay military personnel so poorly should be a national disgrace. Fortunately, food stamps are available to many in order to close the gap between what the military pays, and what it actually costs to feed soldiers and their families.
If none of that is enough for you, consider this. According to Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Economy.com and a former campaign adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain, for each food stamp dollar spent, GDP grows by $1.74 one year later, making it the most effective of the various forms of federal stimulus spending.
We ought to be grateful for food stamps. If we care nothing for the families who desperately need the assistance, then we ought to at least appreciate the stimulative effect that food stamps have on our economy.
We should never forget that we all live in one economy. In that one economy, we all live on food stamps.