We All Live On Food Stamps


The Farm Bill is dead for now, in part over right wing demands to cut food stamps. This post was written last year but it timely now. We all live on food stamps.

About 45 million people in the U.S. receive food stamps. That’s about 14 percent of the American population. For 6 million Americans, food stamps constitutes their only income. 55 percent of food stamp households include children. 14 percent include a disabled member. 9 percent include someone over the age of 60.  And if you don’t think this is a racial justice issue, a quarter of food stamp households are headed by African Americans, making them the most over-represented group on the program. The largest groups of recipients, about 41 percent, are white. But as a portion of the white population, only eight of every 100 whites uses food stamps compared with about one-fourth of African Americans.

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 and grateful 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. Without food stamps, many would go out of business, resulting in food deserts, especially in rural areas, and exacerbating unemployment and poverty.

Moreover, contrary to popular belief, 41 percent 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 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.


By Scot Nakagawa

Scot is a community organizer, activist, cultural worker, and political writer. He has spent the last four decades exploring questions of racial injustice and racial formation and effective forms of resistance and strategies for change through community campaigns, cultural organizing, popular education, writing, and direct political advocacy.

Scot’s primary work has been in the fight against vigilante white supremacist groups, white nationalism, Nativism, and authoritarian evangelical political movements. In this work, he has served as a strategist, organizer, and social movement analyst. Scot is a past Alston/Bannerman Fellow and the Association of Asian American Studies 2017 Community Leader. He is busy at work on a number of projects, including writing a playbook for anti-fascists, and a primer on race and power. His writings have been included in Race, Gender, and Class in the United States: An Integrated Study, 9th Edition; Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence; and Eyes Right!: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash.

4 replies on “We All Live On Food Stamps”

Actually, I used to be a food stamps worker. A big chunk of my caseload was soldiers, many of whom lived on base. Mess hall meals only apply to enlisted personnel. Their families don’t have access to the mess hall and must buy their food. Mess also only applies to certain meals.

Sounds like the soldier should of been responsible and moved up in the ranks to earn a larger income before he tried to start a family. This all comes back down to being responsible which no one seems to do anymore.

Um, what about the solider, who risks his/her life for our country, who doesn’t climb the ladder because he’s just good at being a soldier. Are we calling him/her a failure? Frankly, I find that offensive.

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