The latest Food Stamp data (now called SNAP) is out. Here is a chart by reader Tim Wallace showing program usage.

I added highlights in yellow to mark recessions based on NBER Business Cycle Expansions. The NBER is the official arbiter of recession start and end dates.

Food Stamp Participation 1969 to Present

click on chart for sharper image

Tim writes …

The latest food stamp (SNAP) data is available for September 2011. The reporting lags by two months. We have now surged past 46 million, up to 46,268,257 to be exact.

Note that food stamp usage sloped down throughout the Reagan presidency until it started back up in 1989, ahead of the recession that doomed Bush I, then continued for several more years.

The pattern is similar for the recession of 2001. Food stamp usage picked up in 2001 prior to the recession, then continued for four years after the recession ended.

The current recession ended in mid-2009 but usage spirals higher and higher.

You can see that this “recession” is far more devastating than any in the past as the curve is more like a right angle than a curve.

We have added about 20 million in the latest rise and if the trend continues (as it has so far and as it did in the past two recessions), usage will hit 51 million or so in 2013.


In the last three recessions, a significant change in upward slope in food stamp participation served as a leading indicator of the  upcoming recession. Only the second 80’s recession failed to meet that pattern.

Based on demographics as well as weak hiring trends, it is reasonable to assume this steep upward slop will continue.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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