Panel Paper: Food Assistance During and After the Great Recession in Metropolitan Detroit

Saturday, November 9, 2013 : 3:30 PM
West End Ballroom C (Washington Marriott)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Scott Allard1, Sandra Danziger2 and Maria V. Wathen2, (1)University of Chicago, (2)University of Michigan
Economic shocks produced by the Great Recession have contributed to rising food insecurity, with 14.7%of U.S. households being food insecure in 2009, compared to 11.1% in 2007 (Nord, Coleman-Jensen, Andrews, and Carlson 2010).  At the same time, SNAP caseloads increased by nearly 60 percent since 2007 and the program now reaches more than 40 million persons (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 2010).  Nonprofit food pantry use also increased during the Great Recession, with an estimated 37 million individuals participating in charitable food programs in 2009 (Mathematica Policy Research, 2010).

Using data from the first two waves of the Michigan Recession and Recovery Survey (MRRS), a unique panel survey of a representative sample of working-age adults in the Detroit Metropolitan Area, this project explores three research questions related to the receipt of SNAP and food pantry assistance among households with income at or below 300%of the federal poverty line: How have low-income families in the Detroit Metropolitan Area bundled SNAP with other types of public assistance and help from charitable nonprofits in the wake of the Great Recession? To what extent is access to local food assistance resources related to receipt of SNAP assistance? How are receipt of SNAP assistance and economic shocks related to household food security?

The MRRS gathers detailed information about employment, income, education and training, safety net program participation, material hardships, health and mental health, marital and relationship status, and basic household demographics. Wave 1 completed hour-long in-person interviews between late October 2009 and March 2010 with 914 adults (response rate of 82.8%). The second wave was completed between April and August 2011 with 847 of Wave 1 respondents. 

We find that about that nearly 50% of households at or below 300% of poverty report SNAP receipt at some point in the year before each survey, with SNAP participation increasing slightly between the two waves.  About 1 in 5 households report assistance from a charitable food pantry in the prior year.  About half of those households receiving either type of food assistance are also enrolled in a public health insurance program such as Medicaid and a similar share report receiving the EITC.  Initial comparisons of access to food pantry programs indicate that low-income urban residents have greater access to food pantry programs than residents of suburban areas.  As important, about 40% of food pantry programs listed in community directories are no longer operational and urban residents are more likely to live near closed pantries than suburban residents.  Finally, we find rates of food insecurity to be high among poor persons (47.1% in Wave 2), but also quite prevalent among households with income between 200 and 300 percent of poverty (24.6% in Wave 2).

These findings should generate insight into how low-income families bundle food assistance to weather the effects of job loss and economic recession. Our results also will highlight how the spatial distribution of food assistance resources may affect program take-up and indirectly shape food behaviors and food security among low-income households.