Some people take the position that the Great Recession is over. Others state that there is a new normal when it comes to poverty in the United States. It could be argued that both positions speak the truth. Some states in the country are experiencing great employment and high levels of median household income, while others are still registering high levels of unemployment with many households below the poverty level. Looking across the country at two aspects of poverty, the number of people relying on food stamps and the jobs that were lost during the 2007-2009 recession, may show a picture of America that is not so obvious in the prosperous regions of the country.
Food Stamp Usage
In 2013, 47.6 million people were receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal government program frequently called Food Stamps. This number is roughly equivalent to the sum of the state populations in New York, Florida, and Virginia. Before the recession, Food Stamp usage was around 10 percent of the U.S. population; now the rate is 15 percent. Unlike other recessions, the number of recipients grew by 3.5 percent following the official end of the Great Recession. According to the government, it is taking steps to prevent fraudulent use of SNAP, and, prior to the recent recession, the improper use of the benefit was at one percent.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the country had 138.0 million employees in December 2007; preliminary figures for December 2013 put the number of employees at 136.9 million. This is a decrease of 1.1 million jobs or a .8 percent decline. In the same period, the U.S. population has grown from approximately 301 million people to 317 million, a 5.3 percent increase. The numbers say that there are fewer employees supporting more people.
Prosperity may have returned, and perhaps never left, some sections of the country, but pulling back and taking a bird’s eye few from sea to sea shows some changes that may be here to stay.