In 1975, about 8 percent of the U.S. population was on food stamps. Currently, that number is 15 percent. Much of the growth in usage can be attributed to the recent recession. In fact, since 2008, the food stamp program has ballooned 70 percent. No surprise there. The bigger surprise is the “stickiness” of these numbers. While unemployment claims have declined, the number of people receiving food stamps remains high.
Mississippi has 23 percent of its citizens on the food stamp roll, almost a quarter of the population. That is the highest rate in the country. We always seem to end up at the top of the worst lists! Of course, we are a small state, so our 672,000 citizens receiving food stamps pales in comparison to Louisiana with 986,000, Alabama with 919,000, Tennessee with 1,326,541, and Florida with 3,562,000. Lest you think the problem is only a Southern one, note that Oregon has 815,000 people on food stamps.
I have been fortunate. I’ve never had to depend on food stamps, and I don’t begrudge folks a helping hand when times are tough, but I have to wonder about the root causes of this condition. In Mississippi, we have entire sections of the state with extremely high unemployment rates and high poverty rates. We have a hit or miss educational system that seems to be leaving behind an entire section of our population, and we have limited job opportunities that pay a decent wage to support a family.
At an average monthly rate of $133, food stamps don’t represent a pot of gold, but they are still a handout. I have never had to resort to this to feed my family, but I would if my back were against the wall. Regardless, it would be difficult for me to take them. I prefer to stand on my own. Thankfully, I have the skills and education to do so, but I am left to wonder about entire communities with high food stamp usage. After years of drought, is it now just accepted to take whatever is available?
Mississippi has a lot of work to do to provide citizens with the skills and opportunity to provide for themselves, but we also need to take a hard look at ourselves. Can we change attitudes about assistance without demonizing those most in need of help? Being the winner of the food stamp lottery is a losing proposition.
» Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Ph.D., CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Ridgeland — (601) 991-3158. She is also an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi College. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and her website is www.newper.com.