Rural Food-Stamp Usage Holds Steady While National Rate Declines

The percentage of households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has been declining since 2012. But from 2015 to 2016, rural households saw no significant decrease while cities and suburbs did.

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Although the national rate of food-stamp use has been declining since hitting a post-recession peak in 2012, rural areas saw no significant decrease in usage from 2015 to 2016.

The finding contrasts what’s happening in cities and suburbs, where the usage rate of food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, fell slightly for the fourth straight year.

In 2016, 14.8 percent of rural households participated in SNAP, according to Census data compiled into a “data snapshot” by Jessica A. Carson at the University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy. The rate that city households use SNAP was slightly higher than the rural rate, but cities still saw a decrease in usage while rural families did not see a significant decrease.

Nationally in 2016, 12.4 percent of households participated in SNAP. Suburbs had the lowest SNAP use rate, 9.9 percent. The rural and city SNAP usage rates have run about 5 points higher than the suburban rate since 2008.

Eligibility for food stamps is based on household size and income, so there’s a direct connection between the economy’s performance and the food-stamp participation rate. The average household of four participating in the food stamp program in 2017 receives about $465 in assistance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Rural households that are participating in SNAP had a lower median income ($17,884) than non-rural areas. (Median income of city households on SNAP was $19,873 in 2016, while for suburbs, the figure was $24,583.)

Rural America’s food-stamp usage rate mirrors other national economic trends. Nonmetropolitan counties’ job growth has been anemic compared to metropolitan areas (especially compared to major metropolitan areas). Rural counties have yet to return to pre-recession job numbers, while metropolitan counties have more jobs now than before the recession.

Another finding in the report indicates that households that have found employment are still having a tough time making ends meet. The share of SNAP households that have at least one person employed grew to 79.1 percent in 2016.

The report was based on one-year estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.


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