December 13, 2012
There was a startling figure that came across my desk from the United States Department of Agriculture regarding food stamp usage in the SNAP program. Food stamp usage has grown dramatically in the last decade even during the debt inspired boom times. Yet the devil is always in the details as we reported with the unemployment rate really dropping because of the over 500,000 Americans simply dropping out of the labor force. The food stamp figures are stunning because they show in the last two months food stamp usage has skyrocketed by over 1,000,000. In the last month of data observation, food stamp usage increased by more than 600,000. Keep in mind to qualify for food stamps you have to carefully demonstrate that you are earning very little and technically are classified as being in poverty. So what does it say that our nation now has 47.7 million Americans on food stamps?
GDP to record levels yet employment down by 4 million
Our Gross Domestic Product is now at record levels yet we are doing this with over 4 million workers less than in 2007:
The reason this is possible is that income inequality is simply growing more dramatically. That is why on one side of the spectrum we see big financial institutions back to making big bets and earning big bonuses while in the last month of data, we added 600,000 more Americans to the food stamp system. If you want to visualize how things have played out since the recession began here is an excellent chart:
So if you were following the trends since the recession hit you would find the following information:
Food stamp usage: up by over 21.8 million
Employment: 4.4 million below the point where the recession officially started
These figures are important. You might be asking how this occurring in a supposed recovery. A large part of this growth is being juiced up by massive debt programs and pseudo-debt and money creation programs like QE3:
The total US credit market debt is at a record $55.3 trillion. We are inching closer to blowing right through another debt ceiling and the fiscal cliff is not a shocking surprise, it is merely the culmination of massive debt addiction stemming back to the 1970s. Yet as many countries are now facing including many in Europe, there is a point of debt saturation. Inequality reaches a major tipping point especially when you eat away at your middle class. Are all those people on food stamps buying iPads and purchasing new cars? Unlikely. If they are, some are doing it via debt that they clearly cannot afford.
Food stamp nation
Food stamps have essentially kept 1 out of 6 Americans from being out on the streets and starving:
Yet a recovery this is not and the 7.8 percent headline unemployment rate is largely driven by the dwindling workforce participation:
The above is a better indicator of the percent of Americans actually working. As you can see, it is hard to see an actual recovery. You have to ask deeper questions like what are those 500,000 people that dropped out of the labor force now doing. What propelled 600,000 people to suddenly enter the food stamp program and push the overall figure to 47.7 million? The data is readily available yet no one in the mainstream press covers this because in all honesty, the mainstream press is a vehicle to sell advertising. So of course they have a vested interest in keeping the story going that all is well and people should go out and spend (another reason why 1 out of 3 Americans has zero saved to their name). Just look at the ads they have. You think telling the public that 1 out of 6 Americans are scraping by in poverty with food stamps is going to sell more cars?
Debt is not wealth. Food stamps are not a sign of positive economic growth. You would think this would be common sense but as we approach another debt ceiling, the Fed is trying to inflate a housing bubble again, and as we confront the fiscal cliff you realize that we are back to old habits.