Inflation has driven up the prices of nearly all goods and services, including necessary items such as groceries. The cost of a gallon of milk is up 25% compared to pre-pandemic prices. According to a report by Moody’s Analytics, American families pay $311 more each month, on average, for essential goods compared to one year ago. To survive the price hikes, millions of Americans may have to rely on the government’s food assistance benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
As of 2020, roughly 13.8 million American households, about one in 10, received SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. At the more local level, SNAP recipiency rates can be much higher.
To rank the 50 cities with the highest SNAP recipiency rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed five-year estimates of the share of households that received SNAP benefits in the past 12 months from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. We defined cities based on a population threshold — places with at least 25,000 in population.
As of 2020, 11.4% of U.S. households received SNAP benefits. Among the 50 places on this list, that share ranges from 28.7% to 46.6%. Florida has by far the most cities with the highest SNAP recipiency, with 13, followed by Pennsylvania and New York, each with seven.
While factors such as assets and household composition impact whether a household qualifies, SNAP recipiency is primarily determined by income. So, as might be expected, cities with higher poverty rates also tend to have more households receiving benefits. In 2020, 12.8% of Americans lived below the poverty line. Of the 50 cities on this list, 46 have a poverty rate of at least 20%, and in the case of Kiryas Joel, New York, the poverty rate is 41.3%, the third highest of the roughly 1,700 American places with populations of at least 25,000. This is the city where the most people live in poverty in every state.
Because income is the primary determinant for SNAP recipiency, unemployment is a major determinant in how many people receive benefits, as those Americans who are out of a job are likely to have little to no income. Nearly all of the cities on this list have five-year average unemployment rates higher than the U.S. five-year average unemployment rate of 5.3%. Flint, Michigan, which has the seventh highest SNAP recipiency among cities, has a five-year unemployment rate of 19.5%, the second highest of any place in the U.S. with at least 25,000 people. These are the states with the worst spikes in unemployment since the pandemic began.
Cities were excluded if the SNAP recipiency rate was not available in the 2020 ACS, if there were fewer than 500 households, or if the sampling error associated with a city’s data was deemed too high.
The sampling error was defined as too high if the coefficient of variation — a statistical assessment of how reliable an estimate is — for a city’s SNAP recipiency rate was above 15% and greater than two standard deviations above the mean CV for all cities’ SNAP recipiency rates. We similarly excluded cities that had a sampling error too high for their population, using the same definition.
Cities were ranked based on the share of households that received SNAP benefits in the past 12 months. To break ties, we used the number of households that received SNAP benefits in the past 12 months.
Additional information on poverty rate, median household income, and unemployment rate are also five-year estimates from the 2020 ACS.
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