News Story

Michigan Employment Up, Food Stamps Down

No government program can substitute for strong economic growth

The number of people who receive food stamps in Michigan reached an 11-year low, according to an analysis by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

As of November 2018, a little more than 1.2 million Michiganders receive benefits through the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps. That’s the lowest number since 2007, when there were about 500 fewer recipients. Michigan saw the number of people on food stamps peak in 2011, when it reached nearly 1.9 million. That number has been on a steady decline since, decreasing by about 100,000 every year.

In 2017, roughly 1.38 million Michigan residents received food stamps. Between 1997 and 2004, there were fewer than a million recipients every year.

The Michigan economy and employment rates have been performing better in recent years, which analysts say has been a key factor in the decrease in the number of food-stamp recipients. The state had a 14.6 percent unemployment rate in June 2009, during the Great Recession, but it has steadily dropped since then. The state’s unemployment rate is now 4.0 percent, which exceeds the national rate of 3.9 percent.

“The Michigan economy is doing very well, with especially strong wage growth in lower-wage industries like retail trade and restaurants, bars, and hotels,” Don Grimes, a senior research specialist at the University of Michigan, said.

“The very low unemployment rate also shows that the labor market is very tight, so many people who previously were out of the labor force because they did not think they could get hired have moved back into the labor force and are now getting hired,” he added. “So while I can’t say that the strong labor market and increasing wages are the sole reason for the decline in food stamps usage in Michigan, they had to have been a big contributing factor.”

Peter Ruark, a senior policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy, agreed that employment growth is a key factor.

A decrease in unemployment, he said, will generally correlate with a decrease in food stamp recipients because food stamps usage tends to decrease when the needs of Americans do. Although it is uncertain whether new jobs always pay more, he said it still is a good sign that people are getting back to work.

In October of last year, work requirements for food stamp recipients went into effect. The policy requires able-bodied adults between 18 and 49 years of age and without young children to work 20 hours a week on average, or fulfill a similar requirement, such as work training or volunteering for a charity.