Sure, they spend their food stamps on things like quinoa, tofu, and Icelandic Skyr cheese, but there’s a rapidly growing number of young, able-bodied Americans who are out of work and can’t afford their groceries.
Think of it as the effect of a grinding recession crossed with the epicurean tastes of young people as obsessed with food as previous generations were with music and sex. Faced with lingering unemployment, 20- and 30-somethings with college degrees and foodie standards are shaking off old taboos about who should get government assistance and discovering that government benefits can indeed be used for just about anything edible, including wild-caught fish, organic asparagus and triple-crème cheese.
Food policy experts and human resource administrators are quick to point out that the overwhelming majority of the record 38 million Americans now using food stamps are their traditional recipients: the working poor, the elderly and single parents on welfare.
But they also note that recent changes made to the program as part of last year’s stimulus package, which relaxed the restrictions on able-bodied adults without dependents to collect food stamps, have made some young singles around the country eligible for the first time.
“There are many 20-somethings from educated families who go through a period of unemployment and live very frugally, maybe even technically in poverty, who now qualify,” said Parke Wilde, a food economist at Tufts University who has written extensively about food stamp usage and policy.
The increase in food stamp use among this demographic is hard to measure, as they represent a cross section of characteristics not specifically tracked by the Agriculture Department, which administers the program.
But general unemployment figures among the group are stark: Between the ends of 2007 and 2009, unemployment among those aged 20 to 34 rose 100 percent, and between 2006 and 2009, unemployment among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher was up 179 percent.
What’s pathetic is that most of these unemployed young people actually voted for Obama’s “hope and change.” What did they get in return? No job, no employer willing to give them more than 29 hours (because of Obamacare), and the inability to pay for their own groceries.