It’s looking that way for a growing number of Americans. Record home foreclosures, escalating unemployment and price hikes are hitting them in the gut, creating a record number—28 million—who are in need of food stamps to feed themselves and their families.
Forty states are reporting increases in applications for food stamp assistance, which now comes in the form of an electronic card swiped at the checkout counter.
Dismal projections by the Congressional Budget Office in Washington suggest that in the fiscal year starting in October, 28 million people in the US will be using government food stamps to buy essential groceries, the highest level since the food assistance programme was introduced in the 1960s.
The increase—from 26.5 million in 2007—is due partly to recent efforts to increase public awareness of the programme and also a switch from paper coupons to electronic debit cards. But above all it is the pressures being exerted on ordinary Americans by an economy that is suddenly beset by troubles. Housing foreclosures, accelerating jobs losses and fast-rising prices all add to the squeeze.
Emblematic of the downturn until now has been the parades of houses seized in foreclosure all across the country, and myriad families separated from their homes. But now the crisis is starting to hit the country in its gut. Getting food on the table is a challenge many Americans are finding harder to meet. As a barometer of the country’s economic health, food stamp usage may not be perfect, but can certainly tell a story.