The number of Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has dropped dramatically since the peak of the Great Recession, signaling that the U.S. economy is still steadily recovering since the 2008 financial collapse.
On Aug. 31, an economic analysis conducted by The Washington Post found that the U.S. economy was improving based on a reduction in SNAP recipients and increased spending on entertainment. The analysis noted that the amount of Americans on food stamps had dropped by nearly 8 million since the peak of the Great Recession.
In 2013, the number of Americans enrolled in SNAP hit an all-time high with 47.6 million. Data by provided by the Department of Agriculture found that there were roughly 41.5 million Americans enrolled in the program by May 2017.
There are still currently far more Americans relying on food stamps since before the recession. In 2008, when the financial collapse occurred, there were 28.2 million people enrolled in SNAP. That number grew greatly during the recession before peaking in 2013. It then gradually sank back down, dipping to 43.5 million in 2016.
The economic analysis attributed this contraction to job growth.
"SNAP is a program that is designed to help people get through difficult times when they are not working," said senior fellow Robert Doar of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "It's taken a long time, but more people are working now."
This trend is being felt on a statewide level. Executive director Sue Sigler of the California Association of Food Banks noted that CalFresh, the California implementation of SNAP, had also experienced a drawdown in enrollees.
"The CalFresh program is designed to expand and contract along with economic trends," Sigler told The Sacramento Bee. "When the economy is slower, the program is designed to serve those people through a temporary time of need. That's what we see."
Deputy executive director Cathy Senderling-McDonald of the County Welfare Directors Association of California concurred with Sigler's take, stating: "We're seeing economic improvements drive declines."
The decline in SNAP participation is also due to the reintroduction of work requirements in several states. In 1996, former President Bill Clinton placed work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs). In 2009, the Obama administration lifted these requirements as the job market plummeted, according to PolitiFact.
As of Aug. 31, 16 states have fully reintroduced these working requirements, placing pressure on ABAWDs to secure employment or seek job-training in order to remain enrolled in SNAP.
The Post's analysis also asserted that the economy was improving because the middle-class was spending more on entertainment. Data provided by the Department of Labor found that the average American household spent over $2,900 on entertainment in 2016. In 2013, the average household spent less than $2,500 on entertainment. This change signaled that Americans were feeling more confident in their finances.