Senior Research Analyst
A recent Heritage Foundation blog post overstates the share of SNAP (formerly food stamp) recipients who are working-age adults and misleadingly portrays SNAP’s temporary growth in response to the Great Recession and slow recovery as a problem.
People ages 18-64 make up just under half of SNAP recipients, not a majority as the Heritage post claims. Moreover, most of those who can work do work: more than half of SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult work while receiving SNAP. Because many working families turn to SNAP temporarily after losing a job, the share who work within a year of receiving SNAP is even higher — more than 80 percent.
While the share of SNAP participants who are working-age adults has risen somewhat since the start of the recession, from 45 percent in 2007 to 49 percent in 2013 (the most recent year for which we have data), that’s largely due to three factors that do not point to a problem with SNAP.
Overall, SNAP enrollment grew significantly during the recession and remained high due to the lingering effects of the downturn. That’s no surprise: SNAP is designed to expand and contract in response to changes in the number of people with incomes below or just above the poverty line. As the economy has slowly begun recovering, SNAP participation has begun falling — by 2.3 million people since peaking at the end of 2012. The Congressional Budget Office expects the decline to continue as the economy continues to recover and prospects improve for low-income workers.