When the economy takes a downturn and unemployment rises, more people rely on the social safety net and programs like the recently renamed food stamp program called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). As the economy improves and employment increases, people need to rely less on government provided support.
At least that’s what used to happen. But something has changed.
From 1969 until 2003, SNAP has been very responsive to changes in the unemployment rate. But from 2003 to 2007, the number of SNAP recipients kept increasing even as unemployment declined. And the number of SNAP recipients has barely come off its all-time peak of 47.8 million recipients hit in December 2012. Since then, the number of SNAP recipients has only declined by 2.7 percent and started increasing again in the months of April and June 2014.
So why, asks AEI’s poverty scholar Robert Doar, is the number of SNAP recipients staying near record highs even as the economy strengthens? A still-weak economy is part of the answer, says Doar, but not a sufficient explanation: