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Thanksgiving on Food Stamps, by the Numbers

Courtesy of Flickr/Loren Javier

Courtesy of Flickr/Loren Javier

For the record 47 million people who rely on food stamps — about 1 in 7 Americans —  paying the cost of a full Thanksgiving meal tomorrow may be a bit tougher than it was last year.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

On Nov. 1, monthly benefits for most families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were reduced by about 5 percent. That amounts to roughly $36 in cuts per month for a family of four — from $668 to $632 — based on maximum benefit levels, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency overseeing the program. The reductions stem from Congress’ refusal to renew about $5 billion in additional benefits that were provided as part of the 2009 stimulus bill. 

So how does that translate in Thanksgiving dollars?

In its annual survey, the Farm Bureau Federation — a conservative group — calculated the average cost (nationwide) of all the standard fixings in a Thanksgiving meal for 10 people at about $49 – or $4.90 per person. Even assuming the cheapest ingredients and small portion sizes, it’s a very conservative and somewhat dubious estimate and obviously varies significantly by region. But for the sake of argument, let’s use it. (See the last Lowdown post for the breakdown of costs.)  

Meanwhile, the maximum amount of SNAP benefits for one person is now $189, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in its analysis of USDA data. But the more mouths to feed, the smaller the per-person benefit. For instance, the $632 per month in benefits that a family of four receives comes out to roughly $158 per person per month, or just about $1.76 per person per meal (assuming 90 meals a month).

Now take a family of 10: with maximum monthly SNAP benefits of $1,421, the family receives a little more than $142 per person, or roughly $1.58 per person per meal.

Of course, comparing that directly to the surprisingly low $4.90-per-person estimated cost of the average Thanksgiving meal is enough to give any economist an ulcer. It’s certainly not apples to apples (or, in this case, drumsticks to drumsticks). For starters, most families receiving SNAP benefits earn at least some additional income and don’t rely entirely on those subsidies for all their food needs.

Pew Charitable Trusts

Click to view interactive map

However, it does underscore the reality that a growing number of Americans are now struggling to put a meal on the table, especially during the most food-centric of American holidays — typically the busiest time of the year for food banks across the country.

The number of people receiving food stamps is up about a million from last year, and more than double what it was a decade ago. Almost half of recipients are children, and about two-thirds of the adults are women.

Even so, many Republicans in Congress continue to push for deeper cuts to the SNAP program, which is authorized in the five-year omnibus farm bill that covers all agricultural programs. The SNAP program has expanded markedly over the past decade, prompting  conservative critics to argue that it encourages dependence among those who don’t necessarily need it, and is fiscally inefficient and prone to fraud. A House version of the new farm bill proposes program cuts of an additional $40 billion over 10 years. The Senate version would result in around $4 billion in cuts.

Infographic: What’s An IPO Anyway? (Explained in Just Over 140 Characters)

Includes infographics
NYSE

NYSE

In case you’ve been hiding out in a cave this week (one without a dependable wireless connection, that is), you’ve probably heard that Twitter has gone public.

The microblogging platform that took the world by storm less than eight years ago, now has more than 100 million daily active users worldwide and is valued at close to $13 billion. In September, the company filed for its Initial Public Offering (IPO). And on Thursday, amid much fanfare, Twitter’s stock began trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol TWTR, with shares initially priced at $26 a pop. Continue reading

Poverty Line Problems: The History of an Outdated Measurement (Infographic)

Includes Cartoon Infographic

Poverty_Line_Problems_Slice6Following up on his last cartoon infographic exploring “the poverty threshold” in the United States, graphic journalist Andy Warner digs into the concept behind “the poverty line,” the origins of that measurement and why it’s considered so outdated today. View it below in full, or in segments as a slideshow. Continue reading

The Debt Ceiling: What Is it, Why Do We Have It and What Do We Owe?

Includes images, video and charts
usd-us-debt_ceiling-2012-16394_billion_USD-v1

This is what U.S. federal debt looks like in physical dollars (and bear in mind that today’s debt has grown to more than $17 tirllion). Image by demonocracy.info

And here I was just starting to get my government shutdown groove on.

I mean, without the thrill of waking up every morning to the debt default doomsday machine ticking down to the brink of economic catastrophe, life honestly seems a bit mundane. At least Congress didn’t go too nuts and actually resolve the issue;  they just went ahead and did what any rational group of people do when confronted with a difficult situation: they put it off for another day — you know, kicked the can down the road. Anyone smell a sequel? (And yes, I’ve already reserved front row tickets for Round 2 in January. I hear it’s gonna be awesome. My sources tell me that before the final death match, John Boehner reveals himself as President Obama’s real father).

But seriously … With the stroke of a pen, the government sputtered back to life last Thursday morning after Obama and Congress ended a 16-day political standoff that had left large swaths of the federal government shuttered and put the U.S. at risk of losing it’s ability to borrow money. The compromise allows federal agencies to resume operations, reopen public facilities and abruptly end the unpaid staycations of hundreds of thousands of furloughed employees. Continue reading

A Public Transit Guide to Income Inequality in the Bay Area

Includes interactive maps/charts

Muni_linesAs Bay Area commuters once again brace for the possibility of a prolonged BART strike and look to alternative transportation means, it seems apropos to feature this innovative multimedia piece: a collection of some of the region’s major public transit lines and the dramatic income disparities that exist among the communities living along those routes. Continue reading

Infographic: What Does it Mean to Be Poor in America?

Includes cartoon infographic

By Andy Warner

Poverty_Trend_SliceintroEarlier this month — back in the good ole’ days when our government was actually functioning (sort of) — the U.S. Census Bureau released a series of 2012 income data for American households (and no, I can’t provide the link, because the Census site is still closed for business). The figures shows that despite the nation’s supposed economic recovery, average American household incomes didn’t really budge from where they were the year before. Meanwhile, the poverty rate remained at roughly the same level as it was in 2011 as well. The data underscore a growing gap in wealth inequality in America, with the incomes of lower and middle class households stagnating, while those among the wealthiest continue to rise at a rapid clip. In this comic infographic, graphic journalist Andy Warner breaks down these figures and what they mean for the millions of average American families still just scraping by. To view it as a slideshow in individual segments, click the thumbnail below.
Continue reading

Animated Explainer: What’s All The Fuss About Fracking in California?

Includes animations and map

Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation to create California’s first set of regulations on hydraulic fracturing. The controversial extraction technique, commonly known as fracking, involves the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into deep shale formations in order to create fractures that release reserves of oil or natural gas.

While fracking operations in the Northeast generally extract natural gas, in California, oil is the big prize. Continue reading

Map: San Francisco’s Affordable Rent Gap Is Enough to Make You Sick … Literally

Includes interactive map
housing map

San Francisco Department of Public Health

Looking for an apartment to rent in San Francisco?

Brace yourself.

Last year, the City by the Bay earned the dubious distinction of having America’s most expensive rental market, beating out longtime heavyweight New York. Due in part to the surge in the region’s tech-fueled jobs market (some “friend” indeed, Zuckerberg!) and the city’s longstanding shortage of affordable housing units, the spike has led to jaw-dropping rents, with the median monthly rate of a mere studio at more than $2,200 a month, according to apartmentlist.com. Continue reading

For Minimum Wage Earners in California, the Promise of a Pay Raise

Includes interactive charts
Wikimedia

Wikimedia

California’s lowest-paid workers received some much welcomed news this week when state lawmakers approved a hotly contested bill to gradually bump up the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

The legislation, which Governor Jerry Brown has already promised to sign, will hike the state’s minimum wage to $9 by next July and $10 by January 2016, an increase of 25 percent. It’s the first statewide increase in six years, and will give California the highest minimum wage in the nation. Currently, Washington State leads the way, with a minimum wage of $9.19 an hour. California also trails Vermont and Oregon. Continue reading