In 2010, for the first time, SNAP benefits appear to have surpassed 10% of all grocery spending.
This seems to me like a significant threshold. The program formerly known as food stamps is not just an important part of the safety net. It plays a big role in the U.S. retail economy more generally. It should be a national priority to seek economic growth of the sort that reaches all the way to the low-wage labor market. The last time we had that type of poverty-reducing economic growth for a sustained period was the late 1990s.
I provide more detail about recent program trends in "The New Normal: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (gated)," published this week in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics (AJAE). The paper came out of a lively conference session, organized by Benjamin Senauer and including papers by himself and Mark Rosegrant, Mike Boehlje, Brent Gloy, Jason Henderson, and Tim Beatty.
This figure compares administrative data on SNAP benefits to USDA's two data series on aggregate food spending. Depending on the measure of food spending used, SNAP now represents 10% to 17% of the food retail economy.