SNAP enrollment in the last 10 years more than doubled to 47 million but, for the first time, the number of Americans receiving food stamps increased even when the economy was growing.
During the 2003-07 expansion, the SNAP case load, -- in a break with historic trends -- rose 24 percent, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College reported. CRC economists Matt Rutledge and April Yanyuan Wu said one reason is a change in the longstanding correlation between poverty and the unemployment rate.
Poverty used to fall in tandem with the jobless rate, reducing the need for food stamps but the researchers found poverty did not decline as the economy grew in the mid-2000s -- and in the recovery following the Great Recession, the number of people receiving food stamps kept rising.
The assumption has always been a stronger labor market would reduce the need for food stamps, the economists said, but the new trend suggests rising employment might no longer be enough.
The non-profit group Feeding America said 76 percent of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83 percent of all SNAP benefits, which are limited to households with gross income of no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline.
The majority of SNAP households have income well below the maximum -- 83 percent have gross income at or below 100 percent of the poverty guideline, $19,530 for a family of three in 2013. These households receive about 91 percent of all benefits, Feeding America said.