This page from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a chart that says more about the growth of food stamps than all 58 or so inches of the NYT 's front page lead story on the phenomenon . The chart shows that, indeed, assiduous bipartisan bureaucratic attempts to remove stigma from food stamps have at least partially succeeded, and the program has expanded rapidly, roughly doubling since 2000 . (Amazingly, the Times never bothers to tell readers by what percentage the program has grown recently, though it barrages them with unassimilable stats from select counties and tedious anecdotes.) The paleoliberal undermessage of today's NYT piece is basically: 'Hah, hah, you conservatives and 'values' Dems. When times are tough all your stigmatizing of welfare goes out the window. Americans are learning to to love the dole.'
But a stigma placed on cash-like welfare (which food stamps are) remains a positive sign of a healthy work ethic. If you came across two societies--Society A, in which food stamps were stigmatized, with families reluctant to go on the dole even if they were eligible, and Society B, in which they weren't, you would want to bet on (and live in) Society A. It's one thing to relax the stigma on welfare in times of epic economic decline. It's another if the stigma doesn't return with the possibility of employment. The CBPP chart would also have demonstrated that food stamp rolls have risen rapidly before--in the slump from 1988 to 1994--only to fall just as rapidly when the economy picked up in the mid-90s. Of course, at that time we had a President (Clinton) who was campaigning against "welfare as we know it."** It seems unlikely that President Obama will repeat the performance. ...
**-- Buried lede? Is old-fashioned straight-cash, AFDC-style welfare not growing with the recession? Says the Times : "[N]ationally the rolls have stayed virtually flat." This despite the Obama administration's attempt to encourage states to let them grow ? Has that much Clinton-era stigma survived, at least? ...
Update: Matthew Yglesias thinks the program called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance should actually be ... nutritional . No more Coke and Cheetos. Don't tell Mayor Bloomberg. ... Yglesias also defends Society B, arguing that if it is better able to avoid "undernourished children" then it will have a "better-educated workforce, lower crime, less disability, and a generally better-off population and economy for years to come." ... If Yglesias really thinks the obstacles America faces when trying to achieve a "better educated workforce" are more nutritional than cultural (e.g., dependence, single parent families) and institutional (teachers' unions) then we have a serious disagreement. ... 12:33 A.M.
"[B]iostatistics are not easy to understand, and harder to explain to a lay audience." If you're going to write sentences like that condescending to those Americans ( 81% ) who in their "confusion" aren't buying the new mammography guidelines , you'd better do a better job of explaining them than this impressively unconvincing Atlantic piece by John Crewdson . ... Crewdson sure seems to be saying that the small, but real, savings in lives achieved by screening between 40 and 50 isn't worth the money it costs. But the task force that wrote the guidelines claims not to be taking cost into account. ... P.S.: See also this New England Journal of Medicine piece , by a non-lay audience member, arguing that the only way to understand the new guidelines is precisely as a weighing of benefits vs. costs. ... [ Thanks to alert reader B.A. ] 11:34 P.M.