Missouri poverty on the rise in midst of recession

| Staff Reporter

In light of the economic downturn, family dependence on food stamps has grown significantly in Missouri from August 2008 to 2009. According to a study published by the Brookings Institution and First Focus in December, nearly 150,000 additional people relied on these Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for food purchases.

The study, which compares child poverty rates to the need for food stamp benefits, found that 3.4 million more children received food stamps nationally. Nearly half of SNAP participants are now children, and one in five children under the age of 18 lives in poverty.

“Poverty is associated with a variety of health complications for children like asthma, lead poisoning and so on,” said Mark Rank, professor of social welfare.

Rank also said that children living in poverty might be undernourished, affecting their performance at school.

“If you’re a kid, you’re going to school, but you’re not getting all the nutrients you need,” Rank said. “It can affect your ability to learn and to do well in school.”

Currently, Mississippi has the highest rate of child poverty at 30.4 percent, and New Hampshire has the lowest rate at 9 percent. In Missouri, 18.6 percent of children rely on food stamps. Southern states overall continue to face higher levels of poverty due to a lack of economic opportunity.

Findings were based on Census Bureau statistics of poverty rates within the United States from 2008 to 2009. Poverty levels are predicted to rise, even several years after the economy improves.

Rank believes that the U.S. government still isn’t doing enough to alleviate poverty.

“We have the highest rates of poverty in the developed world, the most extreme economic inequality in the developed world, [and] we have the weakest social safety net in the world,” Rank said. “We do the least in terms of social policy, really of any other developed country, in terms of trying to help families get out of poverty, in trying to help kids that are in poverty.”

Those eligible to receive SNAP benefits have an income lower than 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline. Due to the increase in SNAP participants and rises in inflation, the Congressional Budget Office plans to allocate an additional $34 billion to pay for food stamps. The stimulus bill had already budgeted $20 billion for spending on food stamp benefits until 2019.

According to Rank, SNAP still doesn’t provide enough support for families in economically insecure situations. Providing universal health care—especially for children—is only one of the many social policies Rank believes the government needs to provide in order to have poverty rates similar to other developed countries.

Sophomore Kenith Dsouza hopes that Washington University students will respond to the worsening situation in Missouri.

“Having lived in India and seen poverty firsthand, I feel like it’s our responsibility to help those who are less fortunate than us,” Dsouza said. “We have to be aware of the fact that we need to do more so that tragedies like poverty don’t happen.”

Rank encourages students to be involved politically in order to improve social service programs.

“Students can think about it from a political and policy point of view—how can they mobilize and put pressure on the political system to create some changes?” Rank said. “Poverty is not an issue of ‘them’ but it’s really an issue of ‘us.’ Everyone is affected by these high rates of poverty.”

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