Nearly half of all U.S. children will use food stamps, expert says

Holidays and tables full of delicious food usually go hand-in-hand, but for nearly half of the children in the United States, this is not guaranteed.

“Forty-nine percent of all U.S. children will be in a household that uses food stamps at some point during their childhood,” said Mark R. Rank, Ph.D., the Herbert S. Hadley Professor of Social Welfare in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work. “Food stamp use is a clear sign of poverty and food insecurity, two of the most detrimental economic conditions affecting a child’s health.”


According to Rank, the substantial risk of a child being in a family that uses food stamps is consistent with a wider body of research demonstrating that U.S. children face considerable economic risk throughout their childhood years.

“Rather than being a time of security and safety, the childhood years for many American children are a time of economic turmoil, risk and hardship,” Rank said.

Rank’s study “Estimating the Risk of Food Stamp Use and Impoverishment During Childhood” is published in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Other study findings include:

• Ninety percent of black children will be in a household that uses food stamps. This compares with 37 percent of white children.

• Nearly one-quarter of all American children will be in households that use food stamps for five or more years during childhood.

• Ninety-one percent of children with single parents will be in a household receiving food stamps, compared with 37 percent of children in married households.

• Looking at race, marital status and education simultaneously, children who are black and whose head of household is not married with less than 12 years of education have a cumulative percentage of residing in a food stamp household of 97 percent by age 10.

“Understanding the degree to which American children are exposed to the risks of poverty and food insecurity across childhood is essential information for the health-care and social service communities,” Rank said. “Even limited exposure to poverty can have detrimental effects upon a child’s overall quality of health and well-being.”

The study, co-authored with Thomas Hirschl, Ph.D., professor at Cornell University, is based on an analysis of 30 years of information taken from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and looks at children between the ages of 1 and 20. The PSID is a longitudinal survey of a representative sample of U.S. individuals and their families interviewed annually since 1968.

Rank’s areas of research and teaching have focused on issues related to poverty, social welfare, economic inequality and social policy. His first book, “Living on the Edge: The Realities of Welfare in America,” was published in 1994 and explored the circumstances of surviving on public assistance and achieved widespread critical acclaim.

His book “One Nation, Underprivileged: Why American Poverty Affects Us All” was published in 2004 to critical acclaim.

In 2006, the Freshman Reading Program chose “One Nation, Underprivileged” as its selection, and themes from the book were woven in throughout the semester in classes, discussions and on-campus programming.

In addition, Rank has written numerous articles for a variety of journals such as Social Work, American Sociological Review, Psychological Science and Social Science Quarterly. He has also provided his expertise to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives as well many national organizations involved in economic and social justice issues.

For a video of Rank discussing poverty and the results of the study, visit