The U.S. economy added 148,000 new jobs in December–less than forecast but still headed in the right direction and ending the year on a positive note and with an unemployment rate that is the lowest in 17 years.
We'll get to some breakdowns of these numbers, but first there is another measure of economic improvement that hasn't received quite the attention it deserves–namely, that food stamp use is down.
Slightly but this is the right direction, as a Fox News report makes abundantly clear:
The number of people collecting food stamps has declined by more than two million [since President Trump took office].
Data released by the Department of Agriculture show that the number of participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, dropped to 42,182,443 for fiscal 2017 – a decline of 2,036,920 from the fiscal 2016 total of 44,219,363.
USDA figures since show that the program has gone from costing taxpayers about $250 million for about 2.8 million recipients in 1969, under President Richard Nixon, to a peak of costing nearly $80 billion for nearly 48 million recipients in 2013, under President Barack Obama.
The numbers have declined since then, in part because of the booming economy and because some states have restored work requirements needed to qualify for SNAP, Fox News reported. In many cases the work requirements had been waived because of the recession of 2007-09.
The 2017 figure of 42.1 million people assisted is the lowest figure since 2010, when the program assisted 40.3 million people at a cost to taxpayers of $68.2 billion.
Yes, some of this welcome decline in food stampe use can be attributed to tightening requirements for receiving assistance, but the effects of an improved economy cannot be denied.
During the Obama years the rise in the use of food stamps was meteoric. Food stamps were thus in the spotlight and numerous celebrities and Democratic politicians engaged in what was called the "Food Stamp Challenge."
The idea of the "Food Stamp Challenge" was that these celebrities and politicans would try to live only on what food stamps would supply. They would in this way demonstrate how stingy the program is. Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, tweeted a picture of what she said could be bought with a food stamp allotment for a week (numerous other tweeters followed up withmirthful comments on her food chices and the input that she had drastically underestimated what a family could receive).
But the Food Stamp Challenge completely missed the point of food stamps. We do not want anybody to go hungry in the United States and temporary nutritional help in the form of food stamps for a family or individual out of work or down on her luck is a commendable part of our system.
But the Food Stamp Challenge bore the implication that food stamps were supposed to be a long term, if not permanent, way of life and the sole subsistence of a family. Thus the government was urged to be less stingy. But the real Food Stamp Challenge is getting people off food stamps and returning them to paying jobs. This seems to be happening in a modest way.
The jobs report was not the 190,000 jobs that were estimated, but this is certainly better than the job losses we consistently saw during much of former president Barack Obama's early tenure. Unemployment reached a 17-year low point in 2017. The manufacturing sector, which lost 16,000 in 2016, ticked up, adding a total of 196,000 for the year. The average paycheck last year grew by 2.5 percent, which is modest but an improvement.