November 3, 2009

50% of American Kids Receive Food Stamps

Marx was right.  America is finished.

I saw the news article late last night, then read the study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, and was blown away.  The data were solid: simple enough, just ask people if they'd ever been on food stamps, and count them. 

30 years of household interviews, 1968-1997.

By age 20, 50% of all kids will have used food stamps at one time.

For black kids, the figure is 90%.

40% of kids in married households will have touched food stamps; it's 91% of kids in unmarried households.

The good news is that only 19% will use them for more than 3 consecutive years, which, of course, is also the bad news.

I was all set to be terrified about America's future, until I read the accompanying editorial, which reminded me of something someone said:

The bottom line is that the current recession is likely to generate for children in the United States the greatest level of material deprivation that we will see in our professional lifetimes. The recession is harming children by both reducing the earning power of their parents and the capacity of the safety net to respond. However, it is also essential to recognize that children have been made extremely vulnerable to this recession by a decades-long deterioration in their social position.

That something was: what does the author want to be true?

II.

In this case, while the results are technically accurate, they don't mean what it looks like they mean, i.e. that we should dust off Oliver Twist for a glimpse into our future.

Although the Food Stamp Program described in the paper is separate from the Women-Infant-Children (WIC) program, it appears that the study conflates the two.  It's not relevant to the outcome of the study, so I'll simply focus on the WIC to show you why the headline is alarmist and misleading.


First, in determining household income, only the legal family is counted.  The income of unmarried couples, grandparents, etc is not counted.  This is true, e.g.,  even if the boyfriend is the biological father and he lives there or gives money.


Second, even though cutoffs for income are written as annual figures (e.g. $22,050 for a family of 4 or "185% of federal income guidelines"), they don't look at the past year's income, they look at how much the household is making right now, and then extrapolated.


income determination.JPGDon't be fooled by "rate" of income.  If you just lost your job, your rate is zero; you are eligible.  And the next "mandatory" review is every 6 months.  See you then.

Third:  No proof?  No problem.

exceptions.JPGFourth:  and more relevant to food stamps, a person can receive income from exempted sources (there are many);

Fifth: unlike unemployment, in which you have to "show" you are looking for work, food stamps aren't tied to need, only to nominal income.  If you choose not to work (or choose to do volunteer work) and thus have no income, you're eligible.  I'm not accusing people of abusing the system, but it is evident that some people would make adjustments in their behavior if food stamps didn't exist, rather than be committed to growth retardation and scurvy.

III. 

There's also a bit of crazy, crazy math in play.

Nevertheless, only approximately 60% of those who are eligible for the program actually participate in and receive food stamp benefits.  Consequently, it could be argued that the number of food stamp recipients represents an undercount of the total number of households in need of food assistance.

So... 90% of America is in need of  food stamps?

IV.

You will notice that I haven't used this study to make any judgment on whether food stamps is a "good" or "bad" program, not because I don't have a... nuanced... opinion, but because the study can't be used that way.  However, it will be/is used precisely in that way.

It's troubling that, as scientists, it never occurs to the authors to objectively speculate why these figures might be erroneously high; in fact, they assume that they are too small.

Studies like this one are op-eds with numbers.  They promote the particular bias of the doctors (read: social policy analysts) writing it.  If 50% of kids get food stamps, then food stamps are necessary, end of story-- that's the point of the study.  No politician in his right mind would dare question the implementation of such a program, let alone the need.  In other words, it's not the the actual data that compels social policy, but rather the ability to say, "doctors have determined that..."

The press report interviews the author, the author of the editorial, and James Weill, "president of Food Research and Action Center, a Washington-based advocacy group."  Gee, I wonder what they're all going to say.

I've many times remarked that doctors spin data to subtly impart their particular bias.  Sometimes, however, they just yell it at you.  Here is the first sentence of the each paragraph of the editorial:

  • Clinicians always inherit the results of bad social policy.
  • Children are poor because their parents are poor, a fact that ties the well-being of children to the employment status of young adults.
  • Children are particularly vulnerable to the current recession owing to the longer-term crisis in the American family's ability to provide for its children.
  • In meeting the basic needs of children, the only real alternative to the family is the state, an alternative that is increasingly incapable of meeting the growing need.

And goes on like this, until the last paragraph:

  • Children depend upon political proxies to advance their societal claims.
Note that he sets up the government not outside a family helping it, but inside the family, as a proxy parent, able to pick up the slack.  Since the government has money, it looks like this works, and it seems crazy to say you want them out ("are you saying you want the government to stop handing out food stamps?"

But the populace is being trained to see themselves not as solely responsible for their children, but as part of a larger network of interested parties.  That may sound comforting, but it radically alters behavior.  It reinforces your connection to the state, as opposed to fostering your independence from it; and you become willing/obligated to sacrifice more and more in defense of the bureaucracy.





Comments

Smart! This is certainly th... (Below threshold)

November 3, 2009 11:41 PM | Posted by Shannon : | Reply

Smart! This is certainly the kind of thing I would publish if I was trying to perpetuate a slave class that my chimera government could sodomize for years to come.

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Dear lord are you in my Eng... (Below threshold)

November 3, 2009 11:51 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Dear lord are you in my English class? Send this to Mark Winne.

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Paraphrase, "Don't be foole... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 12:19 AM | Posted by Marcus: | Reply

Paraphrase, "Don't be fooled, some of those people aren't even poor and who knows, those 'single mothers' might have boyfriends around who might even be helping with the bills."

;-)

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I love your posts!... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 4:55 AM | Posted by ill: | Reply

I love your posts!

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You don't like these number... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 5:10 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

You don't like these numbers and science?
I don't like these numbers in psychiatry. What are you going to do?
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1229281.stm
"Scientists say they have identified the first schizophrenia gene.

"Professor Peter Lesch, said they hoped their discovery would lead to the development of treatments for schizophrenia, which affects about 1% of the population."

"But Professor Lesch said it was important to note that they were talking about the gene that could be responsible for just one specific type of schizophrenia and that there was much more work to be done."

What does the author (Professor Lesch) want to be true? Much more work to be done. As in money for work, for finding the mythical Unicorn.

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Unicorns cause schizophreni... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 7:41 AM | Posted by titmouse: | Reply

Unicorns cause schizophrenia?

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Enjoyed your blog, I've rea... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 9:23 AM | Posted by trollumination: | Reply

Enjoyed your blog, I've read all your archives. I do wish you'd move beyond this pop Libertarianism though. It's obvious to anyone who isn't a doctrinaire Libertarian or Objectivist that, while food stamps and other direct aid increase people's dependance upon government, they decrease their dependance upon employers, family, and various charitable organizations of varying degrees of honesty and goodwill. It's also obvious that true 'freedom' doesn't just mean freedom from government, but also means not bowing and scraping to whoever has a bit of money either. So a government program of assistance can either decrease independance - or increase it - depending upon the situation.

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That's interesting, I had t... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 11:41 AM | Posted, in reply to trollumination's comment, by NotVeryIndependent: | Reply

That's interesting, I had the opposite reaction. I'm not a regular reader, but I thought this post was spot on. The Left always argues social questions as "what are we going to do about this?" and the Right argues, "what are we doing that perpetuates this?" As TLP describes, there's no room in this study or in these stories for the latter. The accepted solution is always more government funding. Throw someone else's money at the problem.

It's highly unfortunate that the only "contrasting opinion" as he puts it to the headline 50% figure comes from a blogger, and a psych one at that. Don't stop.

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No, unicorns ARE schizophre... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 12:49 PM | Posted, in reply to titmouse's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

No, unicorns ARE schizophrenia.

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Economics has no place anym... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 3:46 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Economics has no place anymore. We're victims of our own success, blinded to nature by chest-thumping 'compassion.' We woke up in snow and assumed we're in the Antarctic instead of wondering if it's February.

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Ayn Rand is the queen of th... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 5:23 PM | Posted, in reply to trollumination's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

Ayn Rand is the queen of the narcissists! If ever there was a case study in female narcissism, she was it. Selfish, lacking in empathy (in fact, she seemed to view empathy with scorn and as a weakness) and according to reports actually quite miserable, she pretty much encapsulates narcissism. While I'm sympathetic to some of her ideas, and it's obvious how her personal experiences shaped them, in practice they seem to always be very narcissistic and a justification for narcissism. That said, an interesting historical figure who's ended up being quite influential - no doubt partly because of her great appeal to narcissists because she promotes being narcissistic as being heroic and a sign of superiority.

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because she promotes bei... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 5:32 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

because she promotes being narcissistic as being heroic and a sign of superiority

You paint with too flat a brush here. She espoused ideals of liberty, not narcissism. Narcissism!=Accomplishment. Perhaps you see her adulation of workers as supremacist, which could be argued, but that's a different fault. The narcissist believes he's powerful and successful, and this is what he values. The Randian is powerful and successful, without regard to what they think of it.

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We'll have to agree to disa... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 6:01 PM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

We'll have to agree to disagree here - sorry if you're a fan and feel insulted. Her philosophy was little other than a rationalization of her own narcissism. She behaved very much like a classical narcissist. Interesting woman, as many narcissists are from a distance, but she shows all the hallmarks of a narcissist. There's a reason teenagers get so enamored of her books and new agers (even though she's quite explicitly a rationalist!).

Not all libertarians are into Rand or are narcissists so I'm not slamming libertarians. And I'm a big fan of dealing with objective reality. I'm just pointing out that Rand was a narcissist and only really interested in herself and her own liberty - hence the narcissism and heroic image of herself and other narcissists - and she's terribly attractive to other narcissists who want to believe they're special and heroic.

That you say "The Randian is powerful and successful, without regard to what they think of it." is an example of narcissism. There are plenty of "Randians" who aren't powerful or successful, as much as they think they're special and deserve to be because they consider themselves special and superior to others. Really, narcissists don't actually deal with reality, they just assume their subjectivity IS objective reality!

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I haven't really read much ... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2009 8:22 PM | Posted, in reply to brainchild's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I haven't really read much of Rand. I can't answer for whether it's narsacism by itself, but I've never known a person to have a "system" of any sort that solves all problems in their area who wasn't one. I think this is something that we have lost, and perhaps Rand is a symptom, but so is Marx. There is no "Perfect System" for anything. Sometimes Rand is right, sometimes Marx, and sometimes it's Adam Smith. The key is to use the right tool for the right job.

Rand is probably right about *habitual* welfare users becoming dependant, but there are cases where welfare is a temporary stop on the way to achieving something else. Pell Grants dont encourage dependancy -- they allow the person to study and achieve a more stable life where they aren't as likely to need welfare in the future.

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I'm not accusing p... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 4:15 AM | Posted by David Johnson: | Reply

I'm not accusing people of abusing the system, but it is evident that some people would make adjustments in their behavior if food stamps didn't exist, rather than be committed to growth retardation and scurvy.

Of course you would, you silly boy. You would and you did, just as plain and simple as the above quote.

There's also a bit of crazy, crazy math in play.
There sure is Alone. And it's integral to your mewling drivel describing cutoffs for income
as annual figures (e.g. $22,050 for a family of 4 or "185% of federal income guidelines")
in order to "suggest" fiduciary shenanigans not seen since the great bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Not to mention all those cost-overruns plus pesky defense contracts indiscriminately ladled out since 9-11. But I digress.

Let's make it easy for the dotards, eh Alone? We'll drop that family of 4 to 3, including mom. And hey, we'll put her in Seattle, Washington ... pretty good employment compared to the rest of the state and Washington has the highest minimum wage in the country- $8.55/hr. Damn liberals. So mother Mary works 35 hours a week ... she's got childcare and school issues, so she doesn't work a full 40 hr. shift. Of course she doesn't get health insurance ... that would be socialism and although we're many things, Alone, being socialist on a personal level ain't one of them. Her pay maxes out at $1287 a month-before taxes.

Problem is ... she has to pay rent and the average rent in Seattle (land of jobs) is $1160. What the hell ... let's give the armchair quarterbacks a break here ... let's just ignore reality. It's inconvenient. She scores!!! She has a two bedroom apartment and it only cost her $900. Using the estimation form which can be found by using der google for all of 130 seconds, it can be seen she will reap the benefits of $397 in basic food stamps.

What was that line again, Alone?

I'm not accusing people of abusing the system, but it is evident that some people would make adjustments in their behavior if food stamps didn't exist, rather than be committed to growth retardation and scurvy.

Nah. You wouldn't that. Of course not. But hey, let's talk about the taxpayer supported stock market recovery, or the record numbers some of the taxpayer supported banks are posting. On second thought, let's not. It'd highlight the difference between these institutions and that of food stamp beneficiaries. After all, 35 million people are so far less important than Wall Street or the banks ... that they command less than a twentieth of what's been paid out for corporate welfare. But their success will result in new jobs and ... uh, never mind.

This year $56 billion dollars will be paid out in food assistance to some 35 million Americans, the largest number since we started keeping track of these numbers in 1969. For the mathematically challenged in the group, it averages out to $133 per person, per month. Wow!!!! Talk about a payout which motivates people to

be committed to growth retardation and scurvy,
eh Alone?

Connard.

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"I haven't really read much... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 9:12 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

"I haven't really read much of Rand. I can't answer for whether it's narsacism by itself, but I've never known a person to have a "system" of any sort that solves all problems in their area who wasn't one. I think this is something that we have lost, and perhaps Rand is a symptom, but so is Marx. There is no "Perfect System" for anything. Sometimes Rand is right, sometimes Marx, and sometimes it's Adam Smith. The key is to use the right tool for the right job."

Hmmm, you don't have a clue who Rand was or what her philosophy is, do you? She was quite a character and it's worth understanding where her ideas came from if you're going to agree with her because otherwise you don't really understand what you're agreeing with. (And while Rand enjoyed uncritical adoration, she'd likely have also put you in the category of those to be despised for not being special and elite...and see you as a parasite, just like people who get welfare).

There are rational discussions to be had about how our societies function, what is constructive help and what creates dependence, individual vs collective responsibility and so on. Of course,if we really are going to be rational - and engage in that pesky "reality based thinking" so hated by NeoCons and Randians around the world - then we have to acknowledge privilege and the welfare extended to the very rich and corporations. The welfare extended to the poor pales in comparison.

Ultimately Rand was an ideologue, she wasn't really a realist. Her ideas weren't based on science or any real form of being objective about the world, they were rationalizations of her own emotional responses to her life experiences.

I do agree with you that "it all looks good on paper" but real life isn't that simple - despite how desperately people cling to the desire to have instructions (be they in the form of a religious ideology or an atheist one like Rand's...Rand's atheism and scorn for religion/faith, which really comes down to "there is no God but me", makes it quite deliciously ironic that she's such a NeoCon darling and hated the "godless" communists so much!). Ideologues, by their very nature, aren't realists...they're idealists. They actually reject reality based thinking in favor of an idealized fantasy. And, yes, the problem with ideologies is that people are messy and our humanity gets in the way of perfection and most ideologues refuse to acknowledge that humans are social animals (with the emphasis on "animals) and not Greek (or Randian) gods. Ultimately, it's all a bit narcissistic!

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Nice breakdown of the situa... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 9:35 AM | Posted, in reply to David Johnson's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

Nice breakdown of the situation Mr Johnson. Personally I'm amazed anyone could talk about food stamps and go on about social welfare in the face of the massive corporate welfare going on in the US at the moment. (Even the attempt to provide universal health coverage has turned into welfare for corporations and churches!!!)

Ultimately, isn't it the height of narcissistic behavior to blame the victim for the abusers actions (and a means to distract attention from the actual abuse as he reaps the rewards of his deceit)? The narcissism in American culture isn't just the result of the entertainment industry, American politicians have been promoting unreality based thinking just as vigorously while intentionally trying to destroy the reality based thinking by both individuals and any organization (the general attacks on science and promotion of religion is a merely one example...and it's not a left vs right thing). At least Hollywood doesn't pretend to be real life and a lot of people recognize it's escapism. Politicians (and there are Randians on both the left and right), try to sell their fictions as reality. Propaganda is propaganda is advertising, whether it's selling a political product or a new car.

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After all, 35 million p... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 9:37 AM | Posted, in reply to David Johnson's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

After all, 35 million people are so far less important than Wall Street or the banks ... that they command less than a twentieth of what's been paid out for corporate welfare. But their success will result in new jobs and ... uh, never mind.

Where in Alone's post does he express any opinion on corporate welfare? You're ascribing arguments to him that aren't there in order to bolster your populist screed.

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Yes, she was <a href="http:... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 9:43 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Yes, she was quite a character:

That same summer, the Nathaniel Branden Institute shut down, leaving students of Objectivism around the country dazed and confused. Nor were they much enlightened when, after some delay, the October issue of The Objectivist ran an open letter in which Rand charged the movement's former No. 2 with "a tendency toward non-intellectual concerns." The last straw, Rand said, came when Branden gave her "a written statement which was so irrational and offensive to me that I had to break my personal association with him."

It was all terribly vague. But in her letter, Rand dropped broad hints at financial irregularities--stopping just short of insinuating embezzlement. After getting legal advice, the Brandens published their own replies. In his final statement, the former intellectual heir revealed "that which I infinitely would have preferred to leave unnamed, out of respect for her privacy": namely, that his final offense had been a letter begging her to understand that "an age distance between us of twenty-five years constituted an insuperable barrier, for me, to a romantic relationship."

...and the essence of that character was raging narcissism.

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Hmm, the "It was all terrib... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 9:44 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Hmm, the "It was all terribly vague..." paragraph should be part of the blockquote. Not sure what happened there.

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Food stamps are very often ... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 10:01 AM | Posted, in reply to David Johnson's comment, by Felan: | Reply

Food stamps are very often a good thing. However your hypothetical is absolute rubbish though. If you are going to paint a picture to make a point but skew the story to tell what you want it to, it is just more of the dishonesty that I think Alone is pointing out.

If your hypothetical was anything other than complete fiction we would be would be confronted with a rather large mass of wasted corpses. I think it is this inability to talk about things without devolving into this sort of nonsensical fiction that prevents a honest and forward thinking discussion about progressively getting better.

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Felan - I think it's this r... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 10:59 AM | Posted, in reply to Felan's comment, by brainchild: | Reply

Felan - I think it's this rather glib paragraph by Alone that people are responding to...

"Fifth: unlike unemployment, in which you have to "show" you are looking for work, food stamps aren't tied to need, only to nominal income. If you choose not to work (or choose to do volunteer work) and thus have no income, you're eligible. I'm not accusing people of abusing the system, but it is evident that some people would make adjustments in their behavior if food stamps didn't exist, rather than be committed to growth retardation and scurvy."

That's a rather simplistic response to a complex issue, and the whole "choose not to work" gambit sounds more like a denial or total misunderstanding of poverty and the class system in the US, not to mention the history of food in the US. (And the whole swipe at doing volunteer or charity work - does community building and mutual support efforts fall into this category for him too? - is just so odd that's it seems unlikely that it's not based in some personal prejudice!) Ultimately Alone really is accusing people of abusing the system - intentionally or not (it could just be poor writing) - but he doesn't want to be seen as doing so (hence the denial). There are, of course, valid discussion to be had regarding constructive and destructive support, access to education and resources that foster independence, social mobility in the US, and so on but being glib and simplistic isn't having that conversation or dealing with complexity. That may not have been Alone's intent - this is, after all, a blog and blogs do tend to glibness, personal opinion and glibness. Let's see if he weighs in to clarify his intent.

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Hypothetical yes. Based on ... (Below threshold)

November 5, 2009 10:07 PM | Posted, in reply to Felan's comment, by David Johnson: | Reply

Hypothetical yes. Based on facts? Yes. I gave a factually informed screed. Mumbling an amorphous, fact-free skein of generalizations and ending up with a pronouncement of "nonsensical fiction" only proves the intellectual aridity of your POV. Facts. They are SO difficult to deal with-you'd actually have to research a subject. And that'd require work. And as we all know, work is hard. Sigh.

As for the other response on defending Alone because he didn't "express any opinion on corporate welfare," you're missing my point. My point would be- just so. Exactly. His opinion always misses corporate welfare and focuses on the poor S.O.B. making away with the $135