05 November 2009

New Study Estimates That 50% Of Our Nation’s Children Will Receive Food Stamps Before Their Eighteen Birthday

Recent estimates from researchers at Washington University in Saint Louis suggest that almost half of our country’s children (and a staggering 9 out of 10 African American children) will receive food-related governmental assistance at some point during the first eighteen years of life. The study, released earlier this week in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, states that repercussions from the recent economic crisis could heighten these numbers dramatically.

Lead investigator and sociologist Mark Rank cautions that this increase is a health issue that the medical community needs to be mindful of given that children on food assistance are at risk for dietary deficiency and other afflictions related to economic deprivation, including insufficient cognitive, social and emotional development. “This is a real danger sign that we as a society need to do a lot more to protect children, “ Rank advised (Tanner, 2009, p. 1).

According to a federal brief released last month from the United States Department of Agriculture, almost 29 million citizens received food stamps in a typical month last year, and about 50% of these recipients were children. Food stamps are a government-run program for low-income families, covering many food items (with the exclusion of prepared hot items and alcohol).

In Shelby County, over 233,000 individuals (26% of the county’s population) were receiving food stamps as of June of this year (TN Department of Human Services, 2009). Approximately 63,000 (27%) of these recipients are under 18 years of age. In other words, about one in four Shelby County children are currently obtaining food-related assistance (CUCP estimate, see footnote). Furthermore, according to recent information released by the Tennessee Department of Education, approximately 86% of students currently enrolled in the Memphis City school system are from families who meet certain income criteria making them eligible to receive free or reduced price lunch (TDOE, 2009).

This research is consistent with other current studies that estimate that upwards of 40 percent of our nation’s children will reside in impoverished or low-income families by their late teenage years, and that one in two will at some point live in a household that is headed by a single parent (Tanner, 2009).

“The current recession is likely to generate for children in the United States the greatest level of material deprivation that we will see in our professional lifetimes,” stated Stanford pediatrician Dr. Paul Wise. “I find it terribly sad, but not surprising.”

In the midst of our current dire economic climate, what can the Memphis community do to support the healthy development of our youngest citizens? We welcome your thoughts, comments and suggestions.

For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, please visit The Urban Child Institute website at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org.

Tanner, L. (2009, November 3). Half of U.S. kids will get food stamps, study says. The Associated Press.

Tennessee Department of Education, 2009,

Tennessee Department of Human Services. (2009, September). Tennessee Monthly Food Stamp
Participation. Nashville, TN: Author.

CUCP estimate: Please contact us at cucp@theurbanchildinstitute.org for more information.

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