The Great Recession was the worst downturn since the Great Depression. And yet, throughout the recent decline and today’s sluggish recovery, conditions have never seemed as bad as they were in the 1930s. Breadlines, for example, have not been commonplace.
That may be about to change.
In an article published on Monday, The Times’s Patrick McGeehan described a line snaking down Fulton Street in Brooklyn last week, with people waiting to enter a food pantry run by the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger. The line was not an anomaly. Demand at all of New York City’s food pantries and soup kitchens has spiked since federal food stamps were cut on Nov. 1. The cut — which affects nearly all of the nation’s 48 million food stamp recipients — amounts to a loss of $29 a month for a New York City family of three. On the shoestring meal budgets of food stamp recipients, that’s enough for some 20 individual meals, according to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
The food stamp cuts are occurring even though need is still high and opportunity low. In a report released today, the Coalition estimates that one-sixth of the city’s residents and one-fifth of its children live in homes without enough to eat. Those numbers have not improved over the past three years. The lack of economic recovery for low income New Yorkers is at odds with gains at the top of the income ladder, reflected in soaring real estate prices, rising stock prices and big Wall Street bonuses.
And there are more food-stamp cuts to come. House Republicans have proposed to cut the program by $40 billion over 10 years in the pending farm bill; the Senate has proposed a $4 billion reduction. With Congress framing its task not as whether to cut the program, but how much, is there any doubt that food lines will soon be getting longer — and children hungrier?
If the current downturn has not mirrored the Great Depression, that’s thanks to safety net programs that grew out of the Depression and other hard times. Breadlines have, by and large, been replaced by food stamps, while income from Social Security, unemployment benefits and the earned income tax credit has kept many people from falling irretrievably into the economic abyss.
Without those supports, conditions — which are bad enough — would be much worse, as is clear from the Census Bureau’s latest poverty measures. According to the bureau:
Now is not the time to cut back. Now is the time to provide.
- Poverty among children, at 18 percent in 2012, would have been nearly 21 percent, but for food stamps; it would have been nearly 25 percent but for household income from tax credits like the one for earned income.
- Poverty among the elderly, at 14.8 percent, would be nearly 55 percent, but for Social Security.
- Poverty among non-elderly adults, at 15.5 percent, would be 16.4 percent, but for unemployment benefits.