The rise of college students applying for food stamps – Mixing of college debt, part-time work, and food stamps. Working 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job does not cover basic costs for a college education.
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The drawn out election campaign has now come to an end and very little substantive action is likely to be taken to assist the middle class. Even more disturbing is how little attention was given to the growing number of poor Americans. Almost 47,000,000 million Americans are now on food stamps, a record both in nominal terms and also as a percentage of the population. Aligning with this record figure in food assistance is also the large burden of attending college. A telling trend has emerged where many college students are now applying and using food stamps to get by. At one point in the not so distant past, it was possible to take on a part-time job and attend college while coming out with little debt (or no debt). That balance is now largely gone with stagnant wages and college tuition inflation soaring through the roof. What does it say that many of our young Americans need to take on food stamps just to get through college?
The rise in food stamp usage
If we look at food stamp costs as a metric of economic health for the poor, the recession started in 2001 and has not let up:
What is more telling is the large number of Americans currently on food stamps. Roughly 47 million Americans are now receiving food assistance from the SNAP program. The number is startling and we see a massive rise in usage starting in 2005. At this point the debt bubble was going into full force but so was the acceleration of Americans needing additional support just to get by:
At its core, the large number of Americans on food stamps is a sign that little attention is being paid to the lower echelons of our society. Lip service is paid to the middle class but seeing net worth figures and wage stagnation tells you another story. The reality that a larger number of college students are on food stamps is revealing:
“(WaPo) Some college students now work two and three part-time jobs to cover living expenses and some of their tuition. They’re applying for more student loans and claiming financial independence on their tax forms to become eligible for financial aid that does not factor in parental contributions. They’re cutting corners by renting required textbooks instead of buying them or simply making due without some textbooks. They’re also bypassing expensive college meal plans and applying for food stamps, an option that once carried a social stigma on campus but no longer does now that food stamp usage is more commonplace at colleges around the country.”
Now do the simple math here. The Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. A typical year of college at a public school is likely to cost $20,000 (tuition, books, fees, etc). Assume this young American is working 20 hours a week and taking on a full load of course credits. So if you run the figures:
$7.25 x 20 = $145 per week (before taxes)
50 weeks of work = $7,250 (before taxes)
Even assuming 50 weeks of steady work and not factoring payroll taxes someone working 20 hours a week for 50 weeks of the year at minimum wage is going to get $7,250. This is far short from the $20,000 and we didn’t even factor in rent or transportation expenses. Is it any wonder why the student debt outstanding is now over $1 trillion? This scenario is for $20,000 a year for all expenses and with many private schools at $50,000, you can imagine how quickly many people are getting into financial trouble.
“For instance, Virginia spent $447,000 in SNAP benefits for college students in January 2007 but by January of this year the total had risen to $2.9 million, according to the state’s Department of Social Services. The state spent $30 million in food assistance benefits to college students in 2011.
“I never thought I would be on food stamps as a student, but with this economy I had no choice,” said student Courtney Davis, a second year student at Howard University majoring in maternal health and childcare.”
That is an incredible jump in the above example. In 2007 Virginia spent $447,000 in food stamp benefits to college students. That number jumped up to $30 million in 2011, a 67 time increase. Things have gotten worse for those at the bottom rungs of our economy and when did we hear any party discuss this in the drawn out campaign? The only time this came up was as a criticism and no one offered concrete solutions.
These struggling college students are simply trying to get by:
“I am receiving about $200 worth of food stamps per month, and I can’t imagine living without them,” said Sheena Vails, a sophomore at the University of Missouri who lives in an apartment with three other student SNAP participants.”
Keep in mind there is a difference between being poor and broke. College students have always been broke for the most part. Yet many would come out with little debt because college costs were much more affordable so that part-time work (which was easier to find) would help pay the way for a Spartan existence. Today as we just highlighted even a part-time job at 20 hours a week (even at 40) will not pay that $20,000 in college expenses. Forget about actually having time to study.
The financial system for the poor and the rising expenses for college are largely broken. The one segment of debt that is still roaring in terms of growth is college debt. If the government with banks pulled back its funding you can rest assured that costs would go down. This is why in the early 1990s the typical student left with a little more than $5,000 in debt while today, it is closer to $25,000 (and keep in mind household wages have been stagnant for over a decade):
College debt and food stamps. Not exactly a pair you would expect in an economic recovery.