The economy is on the rebound and the unemployment rate has decreased, so why are there more people on food stamps than ever before?
One Valley economist may have the answer.
"The huge increase isn't because the economy is deteriorating so much, it's more because the relaxed eligibility, increased benefits and a huge outreach," Elliott Pollack, CEO of Elliott D. Pollack and Company, told News/Talk 92.3 KTAR's Mac and Gaydos on Wednesday.
All the changes made to the food assistance program, Pollack said, dates back to President George W. Bush and continues with the current Obama administration.
"Basically, in 2009, President Obama increased benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents for the first time, he made it easier to enroll," Pollack said. "That, combined with what George W. Bush did, which basically was expand eligibility to non-citizens and increase benefits to large families, have caused this huge increase."
The change in benefits and rules means that not just the elderly, disabled and children are eligible anymore, leading Pollack to estimate that nearly 1 in every 6 Americans is on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), even if they are employed and healthy.
"In 2002, there were 17 million people on it, [and] by 2006, there were 26 million, even though the economy really expanded during that period," Pollack explained. "In 2008, there were 30 million people on it and because of the eligibility now for able-bodied adults, there's 48 million people on it, so you can't blame it on the economy."
Working for lower wages is also a misconception and not a predominant factor.
"Lower wages is a relatively small part of it," Pollack said. "Higher unemployment certainly caused an expansion [in food assistance dependency] in 2008, 2009 and 2010. The unemployment rate's come down, yet the number of people on the program has gone up."
As for the future, Pollack saw a positive but selective one, advising many to choose their future careers and education carefully.
"The key in the economy going forward is you've got to be educated and you've got to be educated in something in which there is demand...otherwise, you're going to be the most educated sales clerk at Macy's," Pollack said.