Oregon saw the highest number of food-stamp users in the nation and even Washington was above the national average. All over the U.S., the numbers depending on the program have risen dramatically since 2000.

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Nearly 20 percent of Oregonians used food stamps, or the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, in 2013, the highest in the nation, according to a new Census Bureau report. That comes out to 301,792 people.

By comparison, 14.8 percent of Washington residents, or 390,879, were enrolled in SNAP — this despite the economic boom in the Seattle area. In Alaska, recipients totaled 9.8 percent and Idaho 13 percent. The national average was 13.5 percent, with the largest concentration of major recipients in the South (Texas households on food stamps almost tripled compared with 2000).

In the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue metro area, 12.6 percent were SNAP recipients in 2013, essentially unchanged from the previous year.

Food-stamp use rose dramatically nationwide during the Great Recession and has only slowly declined. For example, Washington declined 0.3 percentage points from 2012 to 2013.

But the increase in need is starkly different from 2000. Nationally, 6.2 percent were enrolled that year. Here is the Northwest breakout for 2013 vs. 2000:

  • Alaska, up 2.7 percentage points.
  • Idaho, up 8.5 percentage points.
  • Oregon, up 11.7 percentage points.
  • Washington, up 9.2 percentage points.

In almost every case, the number of recipients rose steadily each year of the 2000s before a big jump in the recession.

(The numbers represent households, but according to the Census if even one person in a household is on SNAP, he or she is counted even if the rest of the household is not on SNAP).

The report, which you can download here, doesn’t attempt to explain the rising use. Some will say it’s because the number of “takers” has risen with the federal government enabling their sloth. The trouble with that theory is that SNAP use was rising under conservative President George W. Bush and times when Republicans controlled Congress.

More plausible theories include long-term unemployment; poorly paid jobs replacing better-paid ones, especially in manufacturing sectors hollowed out after 2000; major employers whose profits are improved by driving pay so low that employees are forced onto what meager public assistance that exists, such as SNAP and Medicaid; the loss of household wealth among the working poor in the 2000 and 2008 downturns, as well as the shock to the larger population in the Great Recession.

With its dependency on highly cyclical manufacturing and ailing timber sectors, Oregon was among the state’s hardest hit.


Today’s Econ Haiku:


Supreme paradox

Justices have insurance

Ensuring justice?