Half of U.S. Kids Eventually Must Use Food Stamps

Lindsey Tanner, Arizona Republic (Phoenix), Nov. 3, 2009

Nearly half of all children in the United States and 90 percent of Black youngsters will be on food stamps at some point during childhood, and fallout from the current recession could push those numbers even higher, researchers say.

The estimate comes from an analysis of 30 years of national data, and it bolsters other recent evidence on the pervasiveness of youngsters at economic risk. It suggests that almost everyone knows a family that has received food stamps or will in the future, said lead author Mark Rank, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

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The analysis was released Monday in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The authors say it’s a medical issue pediatricians need to be aware of because children on food stamps are at risk for malnutrition and other ills linked with poverty.

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Food stamps are a Department of Agriculture program for low-income individuals and families, covering most foods except prepared hot foods or alcohol. For a family of four to be eligible, its annual take-home pay cannot exceed about $22,000.

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Rank and Cornell University sociologist Thomas Hirschl studied data from a nationally representative survey of 4,800 American households interviewed annually from 1968 through 1997 by the University of Michigan. About 18,000 adults and children were involved.

Overall, about 49 percent of all children were on food stamps at some point by age 20, the analysis found. That includes 90 percent of Black children and 37 percent of White children. The analysis didn’t include other ethnic groups.

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The analysis is in line with other recent research suggesting that more than 40 percent of U.S. children will live in poverty or near-poverty by age 17 and that half will live at some point in a single-parent family. Other researchers have estimated that slightly more than half of adults will use food stamps at some point by age 65.

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