by Robert Romano
Long-awaited changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) being unveiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Trump administration are once again making obtaining work a key emphasis of the program by conforming to statutory requirements that single, work capable people with no dependents between the ages of 18 and 49 are required to work in order to qualify for benefits.
The reforms are akin to 1990s-style “workfare” that were enacted, according a House report from that time, quoted in the new regulation, to “[promote] work over welfare and self-reliance over dependency, thereby showing true compassion for those in America who need a helping hand, not a handout.”
The changes to the program promise to encourage more able-bodied adults to rejoin the U.S. labor force, which can boost growth and lower unemployment even more so than it already is.
According to the Department of Agriculture, the reforms will affect about 688,000 recipients of food stamps who “will not meet the work requirement or be otherwise exempt.” Meaning, in order to qualify again, the recipients will have to look for work.
The good news is that with 7 million job openings nationwide and record-low unemployment according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this reform could help employers meet current needs in hiring as well as help reduce the unemployment rate even further while labor markets remain strong.
If all 688,000 individuals were to find jobs, based on the jobs numbers, the unemployment rate would drop from the current 3.53 percent level to 3.51 percent.
Of course, to see such a rapid turnaround is probably ambitious. If anything, as these younger Americans reentered the labor force, you might see the unemployment rate tick up slightly, but upon finding work ticking back down.
The key to moving up out of poverty is a job, and the key to finding a job is reentering the workforce.
As the population 25 years and older without a high school diploma — a major poverty predicter — continues to decline year over year, unemployment among minorities, who disproportionately participate in the food stamps program, has also been dropping markedly in recent years. Black unemployment is down to 5.5 percent, about as low as it has ever been.
And since President Trump has entered office, more than 3.9 million 16-64 year olds have entered the labor force, even as the population that age has only grown by 1.1 million, BLS data shows.
Labor participation for working aged adults has improved to an unadjusted 74.3 percent from 72.7 percent, and unemployment for 16-64-year-olds has dropped as well as labor markets have dramatically improved from a decade ago.
That is true particularly for working age adults, leading to the record low unemployment and 6.3 million have come off of the food stamp rolls since Jan. 2017. Expect that number to continue to grow as economic conditions in America’s cities continue to improve.
Meaning, there probably will not be a better time economically, with labor markets so strong, to implement such reforms in the nation’s anti-poverty programs.
And it comes just as President Donald Trump is gearing up for his 2020 reelection bid, ready to take his message of economic empowerment nationwide. Trump can run on his strong economic record, making the case that jobs in his economy are better than government benefits.
In 1981, Ronald Reagan declared that “any worker knows a job is the best social program there is.” Reagan proved it then and now 38 years later, President Trump is proving it again.
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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
Photo “Farmer’s Market” by Natalie Maynor CC2.0.