‘National moral disgrace’: Over 1 in 5 US children on food stamps & living in poverty

Reuters/Shannon Stapleton
Over 20 percent of US children ‒ an estimated 16 million youths ‒ are on food stamps, according to the latest government figures. That number has almost doubled since the Great Recession began in 2007. Nearly a quarter are living below the poverty line.

More than one in five of the country’s 73.7 million children now receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits ‒ better known as food stamps ‒ the US Census Bureau announced Wednesday in its annual Families and Living Arrangements table package. Before the economic downturn in December 2007, only one in eight kids ‒ 9 million ‒ were on food stamps.

The US child poverty rate ‒ the percent of children living in households with incomes below 50 percent of the national median income ‒ is 23.1 percent. Only Romania is higher, at 23.6 percent, according to a 2013 UNICEF report.

READ MORE:Food stamp usage has quadrupled among US service members since ‘06

There are 14.7 million poor children ‒ of which 6.5 million are considered extremely poor ‒ in the US, according to a new report on child poverty by Children’s Defense Fund, which called the numbers “a national moral disgrace.”

The 14.7 million poor children ‒ those living below the official poverty level of $23,834 for a family of four ‒ exceed the populations of 12 US states combined: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The figure is also greater than the combined populations of Sweden and Costa Rica, the report found.

The nearly 6.5 million extremely poor children ‒ those living at less than half the poverty level ‒ exceed the combined populations of Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. That number is greater than the populations of Denmark or Finland.

"The lost productivity and extra health and crime costs stemming from child poverty add up to roughly half a trillion dollars a year, or 3.8 percent of [the US gross domestic product]," the report noted.

Food stamps are one of those costs.

READ MORE:Most food stamp payments issued to working Americans for first time - report

When SNAP began in the mid-1990s, it was designed as a temporary safety net for single adults without children. Now it includes married couples, couples with children, and single parents.

“This program has evolved over generations. I think it’s still not meant to necessarily be a family or household’s only food source but it’s certainly a very significant part of that picture,” John Etling, the director of Catholic Charities in Terre Haute, told WTHI.

One downward trend the Census Bureau report discovered is that the number of children in families with married parents who receive food stamps has doubled since the recession began, from 2.7 million in 2007 to 5.2 million in 2014.

The findings come amid increased concern from economists and policy makers about the growing gap in the US between the rich and everyone else, MoneyWatch reported.

In 16 states, the top one percent of income earners captured all the income gains since the recession officially ended in June 2009, while capturing at least half of all gains in another 22 states, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think-tank.

Republicans in Congress have sought to cut back on SNAP and other social welfare programs as part of a larger plan to balance the budget. In 2014, Congress passed a farm bill that cut $8.6 billion from the food stamp program, eliminating benefits for about 850,000 people, according to estimates by anti-hunger advocates.

Children on food stamps dropped from a post-recession high of over 25 percent of kids ‒ almost 20 million ‒ in fiscal year 2011. Children accounted for 45 percent of aid receivers during that time. A record 20 percent of Americans received SNAP benefits at the end of 2013.