Food stamp use is at record levels. The people who receive food stamps are still disproportionately rural, but over the last two years, the number of recipients has increased most rapidly in the cities, according to a report in the New York Times.
The number of Americans using food stamps has grown to record levels, with one in every seven rural residents now receiving federal food aid. In urban areas, one in every nine residents receives food stamps.
The New York Times gathered food stamp statistics for every county in the U.S., finding that the number of Americans receiving food stamps increased nationally by 32% between 2007 and June 2009. But both the rates of increase and the extent of food stamp use varies markedly from rural to urban counties.
In June 2009, according to data gathered by the Times, 14.6% of rural residents received food stamps. In urban counties, 10.8% of the population received food stamps. As you can see in the chart above, the rate of increase has been faster in cities than in rural counties. From 2007 to 2009, the number of food stamp recipients rose 34% in the cities and 26% in rural counties.
Food stamp use has been greatest in rural areas for years, and the Times data confirms that this disparity still exists. Rural counties comprise 16.4% of the nation’s population, but 21% of food stamp recipients live in rural counties.
(See the next page for state by state breakdowns of rural, urban and exurban food stamp use. The Times makes the data available here.)
Food stamp use is growing because more people are having trouble filling their larders. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last month that the number of households unable to put enough food on the table has reached the highest level since the government began using this measure in 1995. The number of “food insecure” households more than doubled between 1999 and 2008.
These numbers are reflected in Americans’ increasing use of food stamps. The Times reports that there are 239 counties where a quarter or more of the population received food stamps. By the Yonder’s calculation, 225 of these counties are rural or exurban.
The 37 counties with the highest rate of food stamp use are all rural.
Here is the Times’ map showing the percent of the total population receiving food stamps in all U.S. counties. The darker the blue, the higher the percentage of food stamp recipients. We encourage you to click here to see the Times’ interactive map.[img:mapwithkey528.jpg]Only about two-thirds of those who are eligible actually receive food stamps, according to the Times. The rates vary by state. An estimated 50 percent of those eligible in California receive the food aid, according to the Times. In Missouri, it is 98 percent.
Not surprisingly, among the states, Missouri has the highest percentage of rural residents receiving food stamps. More than 22% of those living in rural Missouri are stamp recipients. Missouri is followed by Louisiana (21.8%), Kentucky (21.7%) and Tennessee (21.6%). In Massachusetts, 2.4% of rural residents receive food stamps.
Three rural counties had 49 percent of their population receiving food stamps in June of this year. They are Wade Hampton in Alaska; Owsley County, Kentucky; and Shannon County, South Dakota.
The chart below shows the percentages of populations in rural, urban and exurban counties receiving food stamps in each state.[img:foodstampstate.jpg]