Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Florida: A Food Stamp Chicken In Every Pot

Gone are the dramatic pictures of long bread lines and soup kitchens that dominated the news reels during the Great Depression of the 1930's.  

Food stamps have replaced such politically resonating and historically symbolic images with dry statistics.  But the numbers are still dramatic when it comes to the key U.S. Presidential battleground state of Florida.

According to the latest U.S. Government revised data from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or also referred to as Food Stamps), Florida had a monthly average of 3,074,671 people on food stamps during Fiscal Year 2011 which is more than double the amount in Fiscal Year 2008:

 (Data as of May 31, 2012)

FY 2007  FY 2008 FY 2009 FY 2010 FY 2011
1,232,803 1,454,928 1,952,362 2,603,185 3,074,671

Nationally, there were about 32 million Americans on Food Stamps when President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.  The number has risen to 46 million and has stayed above 46 million from September 2011 through March 2012.

While foreclosures and the unemployment rate are often the focus of politicians, those numbers may not represent the true economic conditions that exist in both the State of Florida and across the U.S.  

Shadow inventories held by banks of foreclosed properties, combined with low interest rates maintained by the Federal Reserve, artificially slow the continued to decline in home prices despite sustained downward pressure from the fundamental market forces of supply and demand.  These interventions in the market hide the true value of home prices and the corresponding net worth of homeowners.

Likewise, the often cited U-6 unemployment rate that makes news headlines does not count those in the labor force who have given up looking for work, are underemployed, or have gone to college because they cannot find employment.

So this leaves Food Stamp participation data as perhaps a more reliable indicator than unemployment or housing data of the true economic conditions that Florida voters face.

All politicians run on the promise of economic prosperity for voters -  famously coined as a campaign phrase during the 1928 U.S. Presidential election as "a chicken in every pot." 

So how will the bleak economic conditions in Florida as reflected in the state's Food Stamp participation data affect the 2012 Presidential campaign in Florida with an incumbent Democratic President and a Republican Governor?

Besides the inevitable finger pointing and credit taking by both sides, it could come down to voter perception of how the economy is doing.  This is where Food Stamp statistics beat out dramatic images of long breadlines for the benefit of incumbent politicians.

Imagine if those 3+ million Florida food stamp participants had to show up to government warehouses throughout the state once a month to wait in line for their food allotment with media helicopters circling overhead taking pictures of the hungry masses to show on the evening news.  Such images would probably make a voter perceive that the economy is not doing well.

If on the other hand, a voter hears that the unemployment rate is down and home prices are not falling as sharply, then a voter may perceive that the economy is getting better.  Both Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. President Barack Obama tout the message that the economy is getting better under their administrations.

Mitt Romney is running on the message that the economy has not gotten better.  Unfortunately for Romney, his wording often sounds as though he is addressing investors during a corporate annual earnings report teleconference rather than speaking to the people.  Here is an example:

"The [Obama] stimulus was implemented and the money was spent.  But the labor market continued to shrink and an additional 2.5 million jobs were lost. Instead of remaining below 8 percent, the unemployment rate soared past 10 percent and has remained above 8 percent for 31 consecutive months. As of the second quarter of 2011, two years after the Great Recession officially came to an end, GDP still has not recovered to its pre-recession level."

This is where Romney may have to borrow some of Newt Gingrich's political genius when it comes to news soundbites and characterize Obama as the Food Stamp President.  If Romney's campaign team believes that such soundbites are not a right fit for Romney, then look for the Romney campaign to insert colorful political characters such as Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich to campaign against Obama on Romney's behalf during the general election.


SIDENOTE:  Although the phrase "A chicken in every pot" was attributed to U.S. President Herbert Hoover during the 1928 U.S. presidential election, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library says that "the link between Hoover and the phrase "a chicken in every pot" can be traced to a paid advertisement which apparently originated with the Republican National Committee, who inserted it into a number of newspapers during the 1928 campaign."