Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

December 9, 2009

Food stamps and the importance of *doing something*

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Food stamps — David Hume @ 2:32 am

At Gene Expression I recently put up a series of posts relating to food stamps. For example, the correlates of food stamp utilization by county. I’m really skeptical of the ubiquity of food stamp usage. There are vast swaths of the United States where the majority of children benefit from food stamps. Some statistical analysis suggests that 90% of blacks at age 20 will have benefited from food stamps, while 50% of the general population will have (most of these are transient beneficiaries). But the same groups which tend to use food stamps are also subject to an “epidemic of obesity.” My data analysis shows that it’s clear on the geographical level. Where people use food stamps, there is obesity and type 2 diabetes. Regardless of what people say about “food insecurity” I think these characteristics, copious adipose tissue, and diseases of modernity which emerge due to obesity and overconsumption of sugars, strongly suggest that images of the famished simply doesn’t make sense.

But over the past month or so that I’ve investigated this topic, here’s a typical comment:

To be hungry sometimes is uncomfortable, I know this personally, I am hungry sometimes. Though for me it has to do with the fact that I don’t think that the immediate response to hunger always has to be food to satiate the pangs (I don’t like to eat past a certain hour).

What a way to trivialize other people’s hunger by insinuating that they can’t distinguish between physical hunger and psychological hunger. It’s even more important to distinguish between voluntary hunger and involuntary hunger. Those who don’t have enough to eat may not have the privilege of experiencing psychological hunger.

The italicized are my comments. The general thrust of the response is emotive, dismissive and “how dare you!” Food stamp programs are not a fiscal crisis in this country, but if the targets of this food aid have a tendency toward obesity or diabetes, we need to reassess our presuppositions. Instead of helping those in need, by and large the food stamp program may simply be an adjunct to the interests of a small number of non-profit careerists.

P.S. When I was in college I knew many students who engaged in food stamp fraud. The reality was that they didn’t need food stamps, but they knew that it was very easy to get on the program.

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December 8, 2009

Food stamps & unemployment go together (duh)

Filed under: data,Food stamps — Razib @ 2:41 pm

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has a post Are America’s Fattest States Also the Most Jobless?. The county-level data on unemployment only goes back to 2008 (at least that I can find online). But I do have data on obesity at the county-level too. What’s the correlation? 0.32. Pretty modest. If I correlate for white obesity it goes down a little, 0.23 (though remember that I estimated white obesity, so be cautious about this). Since I also have food stamp utilization data I looked at that. Correlation is 0.56. If you think of this as r-squared, how much of variance of Y can be explained by X by squaring the correlation, it’s a much stronger association. I constructed a quick regression where % unemployed on the county-level was the dependent variable, and % black, obese, median household income and % on food stamps were the independents. Except for food stamps none of these variables generated statistically significant beta coefficients. In other words, regional level differences in unemployment in 2008 which tracked obesity are probably best explained as emerging out of a general poverty factor (though do note that median household income itself isn’t very predictive once % on food stamps gets put into the equation).

I don’t doubt that all things equal the obese would be fired first. That being said, all things are often not equal.

Update: I realized I left something out. Looking at the correlation college degree holding on the county-level and unemployment in 2008, I found it to be -0.43. So I popped that into the regression, and here are the coefficients with standard errors (all statistically significant):

Black 1.20987610 (0.33416977)
CollegeDegree -7.64273043 (0.62394667)
PctOnFoodStamps 0.14095962 (0.00946762)
MedianHouseholdIncome 0.00002967 (0.00000523)
Obesity -0.06840311 (0.01494881)

I’ll let readers wonder what’s going on here, though I assume it has something to do with the changes in the education premium and such with globalization.

Food stamps & unemployment go together (duh)

Filed under: data,Food stamps — Razib @ 2:41 pm

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic has a post Are America’s Fattest States Also the Most Jobless?. The county-level data on unemployment only goes back to 2008 (at least that I can find online). But I do have data on obesity at the county-level too. What’s the correlation? 0.32. Pretty modest. If I correlate for white obesity it goes down a little, 0.23 (though remember that I estimated white obesity, so be cautious about this). Since I also have food stamp utilization data I looked at that. Correlation is 0.56. If you think of this as r-squared, how much of variance of Y can be explained by X by squaring the correlation, it’s a much stronger association. I constructed a quick regression where % unemployed on the county-level was the dependent variable, and % black, obese, median household income and % on food stamps were the independents. Except for food stamps none of these variables generated statistically significant beta coefficients. In other words, regional level differences in unemployment in 2008 which tracked obesity are probably best explained as emerging out of a general poverty factor (though do note that median household income itself isn’t very predictive once % on food stamps gets put into the equation).

I don’t doubt that all things equal the obese would be fired first. That being said, all things are often not equal.

Update: I realized I left something out. Looking at the correlation college degree holding on the county-level and unemployment in 2008, I found it to be -0.43. So I popped that into the regression, and here are the coefficients with standard errors (all statistically significant):

Black 1.20987610 (0.33416977)
College Degree -7.64273043 (0.62394667)
Percent on Food Stamps 0.14095962 (0.00946762)
Median Household Income 0.00002967 (0.00000523)
Obesity -0.06840311 (0.01494881)

I’ll let readers wonder what’s going on here, though I assume it has something to do with the changes in the education premium and such with globalization.

November 29, 2009

Are over-leveraged counties seeing an increase in food stamp usage?

Filed under: data,Diabetes,Food stamps,Obesity — Razib @ 11:33 am

Since The New York Times put up the csv file which they used to generate their maps of food stamp usage, I thought I’d look at the data a little closer. In particular, look at this graphic of change in food stamp usage by county (dark equals more usage):

I was curious about this part from the story below::

While use is greatest where poverty runs deep, the growth has been especially swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust. There are about 50 small counties and a dozen sizable ones where the rolls have doubled in the last two years. In another 205 counties, they have risen by at least two-thirds. These places with soaring rolls include populous Riverside County, Calif., most of greater Phoenix and Las Vegas, a ring of affluent Atlanta suburbs, and a 150-mile stretch of southwest Florida from Bradenton to the Everglades.

Thanks to the Census I happen to have 2007 housing value and household income data. Also though it would be interesting to compare with obesity and diabetes rates. Scatterplots & correlations (r) below.







It does indeed seem that food stamp usage has been increasing in higher income and property value counties. The Census data I used above were collected between 2005-2007, during the height of the late great property bubble. But when I took the ratio of property value by income as a rough proxy for being over-leveraged it didn’t seem to add much.

When I took the partial correlation of home value and increase in food stamp usage controlling for income, it was only 0.11. Here are some other correlations controlling for income:

% on food stamps – obesity = 0.33
% on food stamps – diabetes = 0.44
% of whites on food stamps – white diabetes rates = 0.36
% of whites on food stamps – white obesity rates = -0.05

There’s an obvious correlation between black proportion in a county and food stamp utilization. r = 0.43. So using proportion of blacks as a control:

% on food stamps – obesity = 0.43
% on food stamps – diabetes = 0.51
% on food stamps – white diabetes rates = 0.43
% on food stamps – white obesity rates = 0.06
% on food stamps – median household income = -0.71

It does seem to be correct though that food stamp utilization has been shooting up in more affluent communities. But if it is true that well over 90% of those eligible in places like Missouri are already using food stamps, while only 50% of those eligible in California are, it makes a bit more sense. In wealthier communities likely more people go in and out of eligibility and so never need to make recourse. In contrast, in regions where people are immobile and poverty is chronic there isn’t as much scope to increase the program because most people who are eligible are already on it. That probably explains the triangular geometry of the scatterplot, very low on the affluence latter social services seem to have soaked up all eligible individuals, leaving little room for increase with the recession.

Note: Estimates are white obesity are based on state level variation. Estimates of white diabetes rates are based on national level variation. These two variables need to be appropriately down-weighted in terms of confidence of their accuracy, especially the second.

Update: By coincidence, a reader noted this similarity of maps this morning:

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