Panel Paper: The Relationship Between SNAP and Work Among Low-Income Households

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 3:50 PM
West End Ballroom D (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Dorothy Rosenbaum, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Ed Bolen, Center on Budget Policy Priorities
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) primary purpose is to increase the food purchasing power of eligible low-income households in order to improve their nutrition and alleviate hunger and malnutrition. The program’s success in meeting this core goal has been well documented. Less well understood is the fact that the program has become quite effective in supporting work and that its performance in this area has improved substantially in recent years.

SNAP is designed to act both as a safety net for people who are elderly, disabled, or temporarily unemployed and to supplement the wages of low-income workers. This paper explores the relationship between SNAP and “work” using the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), the SNAP Household Characteristics Data (from the SNAP Quality Control system) and other available research.

We find substantial work among SNAP recipients while they are receiving SNAP and in the two-year period surrounding a typical month of SNAP participation. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP — and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP (based on data from the mid 2000s, though the findings are similar using more recent data.) The rates are even higher for families with children — more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.

In addition, the number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled — from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011. The increase was especially pronounced during the recent deep recession. As a result, the share of SNAP households that work rose modestly, even as the overall number of Americans who were employed declined and the number of long-term unemployed swelled. This finding suggests that many people turned to SNAP because of under-employment — for example, when one wage-earner in a two-parent family lost a job, when a worker’s hours were cut, or when a worker turned to a lower-paying job after being laid off.

Finally, the paper discusses the features of SNAP that are designed to support work, its role in cushioning the effects of weaknesses in the labor market, and the degree to which its performance in reaching eligible working households has improved over the past decade.

Full Paper: