The Disconcerting Reality of Food Stamp America

America's food stamp welfare program is now feeding one in eight Americans, and almost one in every four children. This is terrifying for a number of reasons, the least among them being "everyone's poor."

The New York Times ran a big, beautiful piece today profiling the program and its newest recipients. To call this a "touchy" subject would be a gross understatement.

The numbers inspire fear and rage from pretty much every direction: left, right, or having fallen under them. They're also slightly terrifying due in no small part to the sufficiently irrational discourse held over it. The heavily moderated New York Times' comments section offers plenty of choice selections, so imagine what they turned away. Many of them echo this sentiment:

Honestly I find this frightening. This is not a positive thing, this is a broken system. And hello welfare mommies and daddies, I know it's harsh, but please consider quality v. quantity when "planning" your family.

And then there's this charmer, from the National Review:

Seems like there ought to be a stigma attached to the use of welfare. A little bit of shame can go a long way toward encouraging people to find jobs. The federal government may think it's doing people a favor by providing them with access to food, but it's doing them a disservice if it also robs them of the motivation necessary to break free from dependency.

Or this one, quoted in the piece:

"...It's really not different from cash welfare," said Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, whose views have a following among conservatives on Capitol Hill. "Food stamps is quasi money." Arguing that aid discourages work and marriage, Mr. Rector said food stamps should contain work requirements as strict as those placed on cash assistance. "The food stamp program is a fossil that repeats all the errors of the war on poverty," he said.

So, again, this (like everything else) gets turned into a religious issue (the "value" of marriage) by a guy from a thinktank a lot of people in Washington DC listen to. Meanwhile, other people want to shame and stave the hungry—genius—because (A) they're not ashamed enough already, (B) shaming people has always worked well against unparalleled economic despair, and (C) letting a populace starve has always proven to be an effective control in restoring order to chaos. John J. Miller, you deserve to have your liver overstuffed with grain, removed, frozen, shaved, and eaten by a goose over lychee and pine nuts. Regardless of politician positioning, you're an asshole. But he's not alone. There's a lot of talk like that, and it's to be expected. But this particular issue makes it a little more frightening.

The Disconcerting Reality of Food Stamp America

Much of the context the Times won't point out but clearly wants to paint has—via that tightly moderated commenting system—started to shape quite the picture around the piece. For example, its been pointed out in the comments several times that on their county-by-county map of America, the majority of food stamp recipients reside in red states. The stats on those numbers are just as disconcerting as any other, but again, back to those comments: many of those commenters are expressing glee that people who've decried welfare programs in the past are now recipients of them both. Plenty of ire is being aimed at the residents of Forsyth County for this gem:

The richest counties are often where aid is growing fastest, although from a small base. In 2007, Forsyth County, outside Atlanta, had the highest household income in the South. (One author dubbed it "Whitopia.") Food stamp use there has more than doubled.

There's one stat that didn't make it in the piece, though: not only did anybody get trampled this year, but Black Friday numbers saw a marginal increase—but still: an increaseover sales figures from last year.

Preliminary sales data showed shoppers spent $10.66 billion on Black Friday. That's 0.5% more than last year. The figures were compiled by ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a Chicago research firm that tracks sales at more than 50,000 stores.

36 million people are on food stamps, Black Friday sales are up, and pious, self-righteous indignation from every angle wants to either burn, shame, or starve the suffering. The operative word there being: suffering. And where there's smoke (the discourse online) there's fire (everywhere else). The danger in this isn't that people are starving, or that people might be stealing from the community chest, or that the people who're well on their way to going hungry are lighting sparks under the Hindenburg of their personal finances by lining up at Best Buy earlier than they've ever arrived to work, though, that's all fairly disturbing. No: the real American Tragedy here's that people are castigating and savoring the suffering of others, without discretion or discrimination. It ends in either a whimper or a bang; until then, there's a lot of very loud, angry noise drowning out anything remotely resembling the sound of progress.