The sluggish economic recovery and changes to participation guidelines have led to a steady increase in the number of individuals relying on food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In January 2013, 47.3 million Americans, or 15% of the total population, received food stamps (Nearly 50 million Americans are living in poverty, according to recent Census Bureau estimates, but individuals and families slightly above the poverty line are eligible for SNAP as well).
The Wall Street Journal recently released a fantastic interactive graphic that shows trends in monthly food stamp participation, by state, from 1990 through 2013. Most states follow the overall national trend: participation rises in the mid-1990s, gradually declines through the boom years of the late 1990s and early 2000s, flattens slightly through the 2000s, and then sharply increases following 2008.
In 2010, more than one-third of American adults ages 20-74 were obese, and another third were overweight. Even though I was well aware of the growing “obesity epidemic,” watching the steady, seemingly inexorable, increase in obesity rates between 1985-2010 came as a nearly physical shock.
This map, built on data from the Center for Disease Control’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), shows the prevalence rate of adult obesity by state for 1985 to 2010.
As Dustin and I documented in the second part of our series on poverty and the social safety net in Virginia, need-based government social safety net programs are typically targeted towards specific subgroups of low-income individuals: single mothers and their children, working adults, and individuals with disabilities. While poor single female-headed households and the working poor have received significant attention among researchers, the disabled population has received less attention, in part because regularly available, high quality data that capture aspects of disability status have only recently become available.
This past Tuesday, the Census Bureau released a report, Disability Characteristics of Income-Based Government Assistance Recipients in the United States: 2011, which uses 2011 American Community Survey data to document the disability prevalence and type among U.S. adults 18 and older receiving need-based public assistance. Nationally, 30.4% of adults receiving need-based government assistance report some type of disability. Virginia, like many of the states along the Appalachian mountains, has a slightly higher rate of disability among adults receiving need-based aid: 33.4%.
Artist Neil Freeman published a map of the United States redrawn to have 50 states with equal population, an art project that addresses what he says is “the fundamental problem of the electoral college”: “that the states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence.”
The image of poor individuals living large on government handouts is a powerful one that implicitly characterizes the poor as undeserving of assistance. The narrative of the Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” is perhaps the most well-known trope, but more recent articles on consumption trends have dismissed concerns about rising income inequality by focusing on what New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall terms “the hidden prosperity of the poor.”
The central thesis of this line of argument is perhaps best summarized by George Mason University economist Donald Boudreaux, whom Edsall quotes:
“[O]ur larger, more central, and most important point is that middle-class Americans are today far better off economically than they were 30 or 40 years ago, regardless of how their well-being today compares to that of rich Americans.”
This line of argumentation defines one of the primary characteristics of improved economic well-being as having access to better and more affordable goods and services than previous generations. As Kevin Hassett and Aparna Mathur write in the Wall Street Journal:
“[T]he access of low-income Americans—those earning less than $20,000 in real 2009 dollars—to devices that are part of the “good life” has increased [between 2001 and 2009]. The percentage of low-income households with a computer rose to 47.7% from 19.8% in 2001….
The percentage of low-income homes with air-conditioning equipment rose to 83.5% from 65.8%, with dishwashers to 30.8% from 17.6%, with a washing machine to 62.4% from 57.2%, and with a clothes dryer to 56.5% from 44.9%.”
The argument that the poor are somehow “doing okay” because they have access to air conditioners, time saving devices, and computers is a distraction from a larger discussion that is worth having, and ignores key issues underlying the consumption theory. Continue reading
Every year, the Cooper Center produces the official population estimates for the commonwealth of Virginia. The current estimates are based on changes since the 2010 census in housing stock, school enrollment, births, deaths, and driver’s licenses. They are used by state and local government agencies in revenue sharing, funding allocations, planning and budgeting.
Since 2010, Virginia has grown faster than the nation, growing by 2.3% between the 2010 census and July 2, 2012, to nearly 8.2 million residents. Within Virginia, the largest population gains continue to be concentrated in the urban centers of Northern Virginia, Richmond, and Hampton Roads. And much of Virginia’s overall growth remains driven by the rapid growth of Northern Virginia, with 54% of the state’s growth between 2010 and 2012 occurring in NoVA.
Figure 1. Numerical Population Change, 2010-2012
Although many growth patterns in the population estimates appear to be the continuation of past trends – Northern Virginia’s continued growth, stagnant growth and population loss in more rural areas of the state—the 2012 estimates also show signs of population aging and renewed growth in Virginia’s independent cities.
We can expect the number of Virginians with disabilities to increase in coming years, leading to increased demands for services such as Social Security Disability or home-health services. There are for two reasons for this:
- Increases in life expectancy. Disability is much more common at older ages; as people live longer, they will be more likely to live long enough to develop a disability.
- Aging Baby Boomers. The large cohort of Baby Boomers began to turn 65 in 2010; disability rates increase substantially after age 65. Statewide and nationally, the population 65 and older will grow as the Baby Boomers age.
Since 2008, the American Community Survey, administered by the U.S. Census Bureau, has asked a set of questions to capture six dimensions of disability. The types of disability reported range from sensory disabilities (vision and hearing), difficulty performing self-care tasks such as dressing or bathing, or difficulties performing activities associated with independent living such as shopping or going to the doctor.
The proportion of disabled individuals in Virginia increases dramatically with age, as shown by the graph below. Fewer than 5 percent of Virginians under the age of 30 report any disabling condition while more than one in three Virginians ages 65 and older report at least one disability.
Disability Rate by Age in Virginia, 2011 ACS
Following the November election, much of the coverage focused on both the current and future impact of changing demographics. Changes in household structure and family formation, population aging, and increases in diversity are population trends that will continue to play out over the coming decades. Virginia’s demographic landscape, like the nation’s, is projected to shift substantially by 2040. Continue reading