OSU Study: Hunger takes a new bite out of Oregonians


CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new report shows that more men, full-time workers and two-partner households than ever before are seeking food assistance benefits in Oregon.

According to the report, “Newly Poor in the Great Recession: Characteristics of Oregon households receiving food assistance,” the number of adult males receiving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, once known as the food stamp program) increased by 73 percent from 2005 to 2009.

The data also showed that twice as many two-partner households received assistance.

There was also a 95 percent increase from 2005 to 2009 in the number of beneficiaries who had been working full-time before they started receiving food benefits. About half of all benefit recipients had worked in the retail, accommodation and food service, and administrative support industries.

“This report shows that the ‘Great Recession’ has affected all kinds of Oregon families, even those once thought to be immune to economic turbulence,” said Suzanne Porter, lead author of the report and a graduate student in Oregon State University’s Master of Public Policy program.

“The poverty rate is usually highest among single mothers and their children,” she added, “but now we are seeing large increases of men and full-time workers seeking help with access to food.”

OSU researchers Porter and sociologist Mark Edwards compared households that enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2008-09 with households that enrolled in 2005.

Edwards said the disproportionate increase in adult males among SNAP recipients is partially the result of job losses concentrated in industries that predominately employ males, particularly manufacturing and construction.

“These data resonate with other reports about industries that have been hurt by the recession and are consistent with the characterization of this recession as a ‘mancession,’” Edwards said.

Nearly two-thirds of Oregon unemployment insurance recipients in 2009 were male, and for the last two years the national unemployment rate for men has averaged nearly two points higher than the rate for women.

The Oregon Department of Human Services has already reported that nearly one out of five Oregonians is receiving food assistance. The rise in food assistance is fueled by a 68 percent increase since 2005 in the number of first-time enrollees.

The report showed that, among all states, Oregon underwent the largest increase in SNAP caseload as a percentage of its population. Edwards said it is not a coincidence that since March 2008, Oregon’s unemployment rate doubled and that the number of people receiving assistance for the first time also increased dramatically. The number of new households alone seeking SNAP benefits in 2009 nearly equaled the total number of all households seeking SNAP benefits in 2005.

“These findings also square up with the recent Census report that revealed a growing poverty rate between March of 2009 and March 2010 throughout the nation,” Edwards said. “However, this report illustrates in greater detail the kinds of households impacted by the recession, with special attention to the work histories of the ‘new poor’.”

Lead author Porter analyzed the data as part of her Master of Public Policy project, in conjunction with the Oregon's Department of Human Services where she works as a caseload forecaster. Edwards, an associate professor in OSU's Department of Sociology, supervised the development of the report.

Since 2003, the Master of Public Policy Program at OSU has graduated more than 50 researchers and advocates who now work for local, state, and federal government, for international governing bodies and for nonprofit groups around the country.