Special Report

50 Cities With Huge Populations Living on Food Stamps

The number of Americans relying on government assistance for basic needs has been on the rise. According to the latest Census data, 12.4% of American households, nearly 16 million in all, received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in 2021. This marks a substantial increase of 2.7 million households — or 1.7 percentage points — from 10.7% of households, or 13.2 million total, in 2019, the most recent comparable period. Given the effects the COVID-19 shutdown had on the economy, this increase in SNAP recipients, formerly known as food stamps, was to be expected. 

To find the 50 metropolitan areas with the highest SNAP recipiency rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed one-year estimates of the share of households that received SNAP benefits in the past 12 months from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey, released this September. Among the 50 metro areas on this list, the share of households receiving SNAP benefits ranges from 18.3% of households to more than 30%. 

While several criteria, including assets and household composition, determine eligibility for SNAP benefits, the main determinant is income. As a result, metros with lower incomes and higher poverty rates tend to have more households receiving benefits. (Not cities, but these are America’s poorest towns.)

The 50 metros on this list are found in 19 states, with California and Louisiana tying for the most representation, with six metropolitan areas each. Georgia is third, with five. As poverty in the United States is especially concentrated in the South, half the 50 metropolitan areas on this list are in the South. (Find out if any of these cities are also among America’s cities with the widest income gaps.)

Because income is the primary determinant for SNAP recipiency, and because unemployment highly affects income, areas with high unemployment tend to have higher SNAP recipiency. Of the 50 metropolitan areas on the list, 39 have 2021 annual unemployment rates at or above the 2021 national rate of 6.3%. This includes the two metro areas with the highest unemployment rates in the country last year, both in California — El Centro and Merced. Both also have unemployment rates greater than 14% and SNAP recipiency rates well in excess of 20% 

Click here to see 50 cities with huge populations living on food stamps.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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