In 2000, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, was at its lowest point as a share of the population since 1974. There were 17 million participants, accounting for 6 percent of the population, and only 51 of the country's more than 3,000 counties had more than a quarter of their residents enrolled.
By 2010, following the financial crisis and great recession, the total number of participants had more than doubled to reach 40 million, or 13 percent of the population. The number of counties with more than a quarter of residents receiving food stamps had risen to 342 across 35 states. Five counties — in Alaska, Kentucky, Mississippi and two South Dakota Indian reservations — saw rates above 50 percent.
The regions that experienced the most growth in food stamp participation tended to be those with high rates of poverty and unemployment. The largest percentage point change over the ten year period was in Menominee County, Wisconsin, home to the Menominee Indian Reservation, where participation jumped from 12.4 percent in 2000 to 49.5 percent in 2010.
There is no county-level data available for years after 2010, but the national enrollment rate has continued to rise in the years since and is expected to peak at 15.1 percent this year before starting to decline as economic recovery continues. The Congressional Budget Office projects that by 2023, the participation rate will have returned to 10 percent — still above historical averages, but well below current levels.
About the Data
County participation data is provided by the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research service and can be downloaded in full here. The national trend can be found here, from the Food and Nutrition Service. National were divided by annual population estimates from the Census Bureau to calculate the participation rate. Projections for national participation are from the Congressional Budget Office’s February 2013 baseline.