Posts Tagged ‘hardship13’

Hardship in America, 2013: SNAP Cuts Are No Cause for Thanks

November 27, 2013 at 9:02 am

As Thanksgiving approaches, we’ve taken a closer look this week at hardship in America.  Our final post in the series explains how cuts to SNAP are affecting families.

This Thanksgiving Day, while many of us try to find room on the table for yet another pumpkin pie, many Americans who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) will face empty cupboards.  Ordinarily, most SNAP households run out of benefits before the end of each month (see chart).  And now, that’s happening earlier in the month, because every participating household had its benefits cut beginning November 1 when a temporary benefit boost from 2009 expired.

The cut, which averages $29 a month for a family of three, may not sound like a lot to those who don’t struggle to put food on the table.  But for that family of three, it’s the equivalent of taking away 16 meals a month.

These families simply don’t have the ability to make up that loss.  SNAP participants are poor, as we explained yesterday.  Four in five SNAP recipients have gross incomes below the poverty line (about $23,500 for a family of four), with two in five households below half of the poverty line.  They rely on SNAP’s assistance to purchase nutritious food; benefit levels afford no room for luxuries.

Charities have already reported rising numbers of people seeking food assistance since benefits were reduced.  Further cuts — such as those proposed by the House of Representatives that would drop up to 4 million people from SNAP — would leave many more people without adequate food during this season of thanksgiving.

Hardship in America, 2013: Homelessness Remains High and Affordable Housing Is Increasingly Scarce

November 26, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Six years after the Great Recession began, the number of homeless families with children remains stubbornly high.  And the number of low-income households with unmet needs for housing assistance — especially families with children — has soared.  Funding cuts under sequestration threaten to halt progress against homelessness and worsen the shortage of affordable housing.

Let’s first look at the homelessness data:

  • Over 1.1 million children and youth were homeless during the 2011-2012 school year, according to the Department of Education.  Four-fifths were living in homes that were not their own and that may be crowded and unstable; the rest were living in homeless shelters or on the street, in cars, or in abandoned buildings.
  • The number of families with children in homeless shelters or temporary housing for the homeless jumped by 30 percent in the first two years of the recession (2007-2009) and remained only slightly below the 2009 level as of 2012, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report.  This figure doesn’t include families who are doubling up with other households, even if they have to move every few weeks. 
  • HUD’s latest count of the number of people living on the streets or in shelters on one night in January showed a modest drop among families with children.  (The drop since 2007, however, was close to 25 percent each among people with disabilities and veterans.)  And one-night counts are less reliable than counts of the number of homeless households over a whole year.

Millions of families that aren’t homeless nonetheless face serious housing affordability problems.  More than 8 million low-income households who receive no federal housing assistance pay more than half of their income for rent and utilities (see chart).  That’s a 43 percent increase since 2007.

More than 2 million low-income households use vouchers to rent modest private-market housing at an affordable cost.  But low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children eligible for the voucher program often must wait years for assistance due to limited funding.

Sequestration is hitting both the voucher program and anti-homelessness efforts (as well as public housing and other areas).  Scheduled cuts in voucher funding could eliminate vouchers for as many as 185,000 low-income families by the end of 2014.  Cuts in the grants that communities use to help homeless people could force them to cut back efforts to prevent homelessness or re-house homeless families.  The voucher cuts also mean that many fewer families that are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness will have access to vouchers.

Sequestration’s harmful impact on low-income housing is one of many reasons why budget negotiators should replace part or all of sequestration for the next year or two with alternative deficit-reduction measures.

Hardship in America, 2013: A Portrait of Another John Stewart

November 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm

The Washington Post profiles a very different John Stewart today.  Not Jon, the comedy show anchor, but John, who works for low wages helping elderly people board planes at Philadelphia’s airport.  Typically, he boards a bus around 2:00 a.m. and transfers to another before completing the seven-mile trip to begin his 4:00 a.m. shift.  “I can’t save money…,” he told the Post, “to buy the things I need to live as a human being.”  Proposals pending in Congress could help change that.

America has millions of people like John Stewart.  They help dress and bathe many of our parents and children, and they cook many of our meals.  Almost one in 11 Americans with a job works in the food-preparation sector (cooks, servers, dishwashers, and the like), and workers in this sector earned a median wage of only $9.10 an hour in 2012.  Looking ahead, four of the ten occupations that the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects to generate the most new jobs by 2020 — home health aides, food preparers, personal care aides, and retail salespersons — pay poverty-level wages.

The work that these people do makes our lives and the economy run smoothly.  We need to do more to reward the work of Mr. Stewart and the millions like him, and policymakers can make it happen.

They can, for instance, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) — a pro-work success story that has long received well-deserved bipartisan support.  It works for many people, but it largely leaves out childless adults like Mr. Stewart.  Childless adults are the only group that the federal government taxes into, or more deeply into, poverty (see chart).  House and Senate bills would change that, making more childless workers eligible for the EITC.  Such proposals hold strong promise of boosting employment and reducing poverty among people like Mr. Stewart.

Additionally, policymakers could supplement the EITC’s income support with an increase in the federal minimum wage, and the Senate may soon vote on a minimum wage proposal.  Increasing the EITC and the minimum wage aren’t substitutes; policymakers should pursue both to reduce poverty.

Hardship in America, 2013: SNAP Helps Many Afford an Adequate Diet

November 26, 2013 at 10:59 am

As many Americans celebrate Thanksgiving by sharing an elaborate meal with friends and family, it’s important to remember that many other Americans lack the resources to meet their basic food needs.  The share of American households that had trouble affording adequate food at some point in the year jumped in 2008 due to the recession and has remained high (see graph).  More than 17 million households, containing 49 million people, were “food insecure” last year.

Millions more households would lack access to adequate food if it weren’t for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps).   SNAP serves as a safety net for low-income people who are elderly, disabled, or temporarily unemployed, and it supplements the wages of low-income workers:

  • Four in five SNAP recipients either work or cannot work because they are children, seniors, or have disabilities.  Children alone make up nearly half of SNAP recipients.
  • Four in five SNAP recipients have gross incomes below the poverty line, which is about $23,500 for a family of four and $11,500 for a single person living alone, such as an elderly widow.  Two in five SNAP households have incomes below half of the poverty line.
  • Three in four new SNAP recipients leave the program within two years.  Half receive benefits for ten months or less.

Congress is debating SNAP’s future in negotiations over a Farm Bill.  The House has passed a bill that would cut nearly 4 million people off the program, including some of the poorest Americans, many children and seniors, and even veterans.  Harsh cuts like these, at a time of extraordinary need, would leave many more households in this land of plenty unable to afford an adequate diet.

Hardship in America, 2013: Unemployment Benefits for Long-Term Jobless Set to Expire

November 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm

The slow economic recovery continues to take a toll on workers.  The share of the population with a job, which hit 62.7 percent at the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, has remained below 60 percent since early 2009 and dropped to 58.3 percent in October.

Many jobless workers — 4.1 million people, or 36.1 percent of the unemployed — are now considered “long-term unemployed,” having searched for work for 27 weeks or longer (see chart).

Hardship among American households has risen in recent years, as we explained earlier in this series.  Unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, makes it harder for workers to pay for such basic needs as rent, heat, electricity, and food.

Unemployment insurance (UI) has helped many of these workers fill the gap.  UI benefits kept 1.7 million people — jobless workers and their families — above the official poverty line in 2012, according to Census figures.

But that’s 600,000 fewer than UI kept out of poverty in 2011 and 1.5 million fewer than in 2010 — and the number is set to fall even further at the end of the year unless the President and Congress act.

That’s because the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (EUC) is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.  And when it does, benefits to its recipients — the long-term jobless — will end abruptly.

The program provides additional weeks of UI to people who have exhausted their regular state benefits (typically after 26 weeks), helping to relieve hardship among those jobseekers and their families.  (It’s also widely recognized as one of the most cost-effective measures for increasing demand and stimulating job creation in a weak economy.)

To be sure, EUC has lasted longer, helped more unemployed workers, and paid out more in benefits than similar programs enacted in past recessions.  But that’s because the recession’s blow to the economy was so much worse.

Ending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless won’t help them find jobs or boost the economy.  In fact, it’s likely to do just the opposite, reducing their spending power, thereby further slowing already weak job growth and increasing hardship for struggling American families.