EDITORIAL: Handout nation

Food stamp usage soars as administration encourages dependence

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Americans are becoming more and more dependent on Uncle Sam. Before the Great Recession hit, 1 in 11 Americans found themselves on the food stamp dole. Now the number is 1 in 6, or 47.7 million, according to data released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Loosening standards and disastrous economic policies have hooked tens of millions on government handouts. In 2001, only 17.3 million people used food stamps, which cost taxpayers $15.5 billion. Now the program imposes a $72 billion annual burden. The economy simply hasn’t been growing enough to put much of a dent in the broad unemployment rate, which remains about 14.5 percent. So it’s not surprising that food stamp usage has exploded along with joblessness, though the economy only tells half the story.

The food stamp program boomed between 2001 and 2005, when unemployment was a modest 5 percent. Even if we return to something close to full employment, 1 in 9 Americans is expected to continue using food stamps — far more than were on the program before the recession began and far beyond the 1 in 50 figure of the 1970s. USDA has created perverse incentives to boost usage, including a bonus system which rewards states with more funds for increasing enrollment.

Three years into President Obama’s “recovery,” wages are stagnant, and far more Americans find themselves in poverty. The number of those participating in the job market is at a historic low of 63.6 percent, compared to 66.4 percent a decade ago. When a parent loses a job, children often suffer the most. Of the more than 16 million children in poverty, more than 6 million are living with a parent who is looking for work, according to a recent report by the Urban Institute. Government assistance can act as a safety net, but it cannot undo the damage poverty inflicts on young lives, placing roadblocks in the way of a child’s ability to succeed in later life. Child poverty fosters a pattern of increased dependence.

The best hope for troubled children is for their parents to find gainful employment. That is only going to happen when there is enough policy and regulatory certainty for businesses to plan and invest, and when the policies themselves are conducive to economic growth. American CEOs aren’t optimistic that will happen anytime soon. According to the latest Business Roundtable report, business leaders are unwilling to increase investment or hiring in the months ahead. If the administration continues its policy of adding more regulatory burdens and threatening new taxes on job creators, capital will continue to flee the country. The result will be yet more Americans finding themselves trapped in dependence.


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