Published: November 26, 2008
Reprinted from Detroit Free Press
The rapid growth in the number of people needing food stamps provides one of the best indicators that poverty is overtaking more Americans much more quickly in this recession than in the most recent economic downturns.
Not only is this slump expected to be worse than those of the last quarter century, but the safety nets designed to help catch struggling families have developed more gaps in that period. Unemployment compensation doesn't last as long, and it doesn't help as many people who have had part-time jobs or a series of short-term positions.
For a variety of reasons, including greater stigma attached to welfare since the mid-1990s, fewer families—even among those eligible—get cash assistance. And adults without children get no assistance other than being able to ask for three months of food stamps once every three years.
This time around, there will be "more hardship and destitution than seen in decades," said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which emphasizes research on low- and middle-income families. The center estimated Monday that another 7.5 million to 10.3 million Americans, a third of them children, will fall into poverty during this period of economic distress. That's above and beyond the 36.5 million in poverty in 2006.
State budget crises, which have now erupted well beyond Michigan, also will put a damper on aid just when it is most needed. That's why any federal economic stimulus package should include grants to the states to keep their budgets on an even keel. Assistance to the down-and-out provides one of the biggest bangs for the stimulus buck, because it is spent immediately and percolates quickly through the community, and much of that assistance depends on matching funds from each state's budget.
The nation's peak unemployment rate is now projected at 9%, a mark that Michigan exceeded in October. Worries about the spread of poverty apply in multiples here, and only a big boost from Washington can deflect the worst effects. This state especially cannot afford the harm that could fall on its children during these difficult times.