November 28, 2009

Study: Half of US Kids To Need Food Stamps

According to a recent study, nearly half of all U.S. kids will receive government food stamps at some point during their childhood, reports the Associated Press. 

The study's numbers have opened up a proverbial can of worms in the public debate regarding how this data should be interpreted and what it says about the direction of the country.

The study, conducted by a team of sociologists from Cornell University and Washington University, appeared this month in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 

The researchers examined 30 years of data from around the country and found that U.S. children actually face a significant risk of experiencing poverty at some point during their youth "” a fact which they say puts their health and well-being in danger.

Though food stamps were originally an initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the programs themselves are actually carried out by state governments. 

Recent annual reports from the USDA stating that more than half the states have not been able to help some of the nation's neediest citizens have further exacerbated concerns over the study's results.

The USDA also reported that 15 percent of American households did not have what it calls "food security" in 2008 "” up by 4 percent over the previous year and the highest level observed since the agency first began keeping records in 1995.

Yet in a country where the lowest earning classes also statistically suffer from the highest levels of obesity, the various reports have also stoked a debate over how we define "poverty."

Policy analyst Sarah Meadows believes that the various statistics are highly probable but also cautions that people should keep in mind that they don't mean that half of all American children are always in need of food stamps.

"While there may be a group of children who are persistently exposed to poverty, many move in and move out," she told AP.

Statistician Andrew Gelman of Columbia University offered a similar analysis, stating that the recent study sheds light on the common misconception "that people are either on welfare or they're not." The reality of the situation is that while some families are more or less permanently on welfare, many more utilize government assistance for short periods of time, often during professional transition periods or other instances of temporary financial hardship.

Senior research fellow for the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector, claims that while the research's figures are technically correct, the parameters and definitions used to define and measure "poverty" are largely subjective and tend to exaggerate the seriousness of families' situations.

According to Rector, the report creates "a picture of alarm that is just not justified by the facts."

For example, to be eligible for food stamps, a family of four must have a net annual income below $22,000.  While not necessarily "Ëœliving the high life,' the majority of these families often enjoy a number of modern amenities "” such as televisions, internet, and automobiles "” that would be considered luxuries in a majority of the world's countries.

Others, like family welfare specialist and former employee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Olivia Golden, have a different perspective on the matter.

According to Golden, U.S. children can lack "economic stability" even if they aren't necessarily suffering from destitute poverty.

"There are several levels of economic disadvantage and we should worry about all of them," Golden told AP.

Social policy professor at the University of Washington Marcia Meyers, takes a similar line, admitting that while most of the poor in the U.S. "are not on the verge of literal starvation," they may nevertheless be getting poor quality, unhealthy foods.

This, she believes, likely helps explain why many of the nation's poorest often see the highest rates of obesity.


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