Food stamps: An economic indicator of things to come?

In this photo illustration, a man pays for his groceries at the cash register in a supermarket on July 26, 2005.

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: A lot more people are using food stamps or those electronic assistance cards. More than 45.5 million people used that program in May -- up two-and-a-half percent from the month before. Jim Weill is president of the food research and action center. He's with us now from Washington. Good morning, sir.

JIM WEILL Good morning, Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: Can food stamps sort be used as an indicator of the business cycle? Do you think this means we're heading back into a recession?

WEILL: Well, food stamps certainly is an indicator of the general direction of the economy which is why participation has gone up so much in the last four years. I think the month-to-month trend means less, but the long term trend says a lot.

CHIOTAKIS: And what does the long term trend say?

WEILL: Participation really jumped up in 2008, 2009, 2010, it kept growing, but at a much slower pace through most of 2011 -- which probably tells us the economy is still weak, unemployment is still high, wages are still flat, but things aren't getting worse.

CHIOTAKIS: And here we are heading into this sort of 'age of austerity,' right, with more government cuts and the debt ceiling debate which sort of focused on that. What happens to the food stamp program then?

WEILL: Well, the food stamp program is not hit in this first round of cuts -- everybody understands that just about the last thing you would want to cut is food stamps because it's both good for the economy, particularly during downturns, and incredibly important to millions of desperately needy people.

CHIOTAKIS: Jim Weill is president of the food research and action center. Jim, thank you.

WEILL: Thank you.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...