More kids asking Santa for necessities this Christmas
U.S. Postal Service workers who handle the millions of letters addressed to Santa say this year's batch contains more heartbreaking pleas from children for basic necessities like shoes and coats instead of new toys.
More than 20 post offices log these wish lists and ask the public to respond with toys and letters in a program called "Operation Santa," USA Today's Donna Leinwand reports. This year, unemployed parents and their kids in New York and Chicago are asking for boots and clothing they can't afford.
One 7-year-old wrote: "This year my moom don't have much money to spend on Christmas gifts so I'm writing to you. It would make us very happy if you and your elves would bring us toys and clothes."
One in four American children are supported by food stamps, and enrollment in the program has skyrocketed.
Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades
MARTINSVILLE, Ohio — With food stamp use at record highs and climbing every month, a program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children.
It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys. More than 36 million people use inconspicuous plastic cards for staples like milk, bread and cheese, swiping them at counters in blighted cities and in suburbs pocked with foreclosure signs.
Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.
While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.
From the ailing resorts of the Florida Keys to Alaskan villages along the Bering Sea, the program is now expanding at a pace of about 20,000 people a day.
There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps, according to an analysis of local data collected by The New York Times.
The counties are as big as the Bronx and Philadelphia and as small as Owsley County in Kentucky, a patch of Appalachian distress where half of the 4,600 residents receive food stamps.
In more than 750 counties, the program helps feed one in three blacks. In more than 800 counties, it helps feed one in three children. In the Mississippi River cities of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans, half of the children or more receive food stamps. Even in Peoria, Ill. — Everytown, U.S.A. — nearly 40 percent of children receive aid.
While use is greatest where poverty runs deep, the growth has been especially swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust. There are about 50 small counties and a dozen sizable ones where the rolls have doubled in the last two years. In another 205 counties, they have risen by at least two-thirds. These places with soaring rolls include populous Riverside County, Calif., most of greater Phoenix and Las Vegas, a ring of affluent Atlanta suburbs, and a 150-mile stretch of southwest Florida from Bradenton to the Everglades.
From "Shaky Ground," a study recently released by The Rockefeller Foundation:
These repeated snapshots convey a powerful picture of Americans standing on
shaky ground, rocked by economic tremors whose consequences include not
just worry and anxiety but severe economic hardship. Economic shocks were
strikingly widespread in 2009.
In the 18 months from March 2008 to September 2009, fully 93 percent of
households experienced at least one substantial decline in their wealth or
earnings or substantial increase in nondiscretionary spending, most often for
medical needs or assistance to family members.
Nearly seven in ten households saw their earnings substantially fall or their
nondiscretionary expenses substantially rise.
During this 18-month period, 23 percent of households reported a drop of at
least a quarter of their annual household income. This confirms the findings
of the Economic Security Index (ESI), an integrated measure of economic
security based on publicly available statistics. Projections based on the ESI
show that the share of Americans experiencing large income losses was
higher in 2009 than at any point in the last quarter century.
Though intensified by the downturn, Americans’ economic insecurity has been
growing for years, and it appears to have little diminished since 2009.
While public concerns about job security rose dramatically as the economy
weakened, worries about other risks to economic security—debt, retirement
savings, medical costs, health insurance, and even housing stability— were
already as common in 2007 as they were in the depths of the recession.
According to separate opinion surveys, concerns about retirement savings and
medical costs did not diminish at all between the summers of 2009 and 2010,
and concerns about the job market declined only slightly.
Economic instability leads not just to uncertainty but to anxiety and economic
hardship. This hardship is experienced not just by those at the bottom of the
economic ladder but also by those squarely in the middle class.
By the spring of 2009, 78 percent of Americans were quite worried about at
least one risk to their overall economic security.
Households experiencing major economic dislocations are, on average, three to
four times more likely than otherwise comparable households to report being
unable to meet multiple basic needs, such as food, shelter, and medical care.
More than half of families with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000 that
experience employment or medical disruptions report being unable to meet at
least one basic economic need.
Households with dependent children appear to be more at risk of
experiencing problems in the face of economic instability than do households
Looking forward, Americans appear extremely vulnerable to future economic
shocks, in part because of the wearing down of their basic household “buffers”
against economic risks, such as personal wealth and the potential to borrow
from family and friends.
By the fall of 2009, roughly three in ten Americans appeared highly vulnerable to
additional shocks; perhaps as many as half appeared at least partially vulnerable,
in the sense that their buffers against economic instability were limited.
Buffers against economic instability are eroded by persisting and clustered
economic shocks, depleting the security of even previously prepared
While economic shocks are broad-based, the private buffers that households
have against economic risks are much weaker for less affluent and less
educated households than for higher-income and well-educated households.
Economic instability is so disruptive because shocks frequently persist over
time, come clustered together, and occur at roughly the same time in multiple
domains (employment, health care, family, and wealth).
About half of all the economic shocks experienced in 2008 reoccured in the
same households in 2009; these “persisting” shocks are associated with higher
levels of unmet need.
In a given domain, households often experienced repeated shocks in close
succession. For example, more than a third of households that experienced a
shock in employment or medical expenses experienced multiple shocks in the
Of those Americans who reported persisting disruptions of employment,
three-quarters also experienced persisting shocks in at least one of the other
three domains of economic life.