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Food Stamps for Hipsters

Blog, Jamilah King
Mar 17, 2010

 

Jennifer Bleyer recently reported  for Salon.com that there's a growing segment of Americans on food stamps: urban hipsters. Loosely defined but universally critiqued, hipsters are known as sometimes (but not always) white, historically privileged, fashionable conosiours who eat well and sometimes don't care.

"There are many 20-somethings from educated families who go through a period of unemployment and live very frugally, maybe even technically in poverty, who now qualify," said Parke Wilde, a food economist at Tufts University who has written extensively about food stamp usage and policy.

The increase in food stamp use among this demographic is hard to measure, as they represent a crossProxy-Connection: keep-alive Cache-Control: max-age=0 ection of characteristics not specifically tracked by the Agriculture Department, which administers the program.

But general unemployment figures among the group are stark: Between the ends of 2007 and 2009, unemployment among those aged 20 to 34 rose 100 percent, and between 2006 and 2009, unemployment among those with a bachelor's degree or higher was up 179 percent.

First, I think this is an important story. One that raises very important issues of privilege and wealth in a new age economic narrative that's historically looked at things in a very "either/or" manner. Yes, these folks are sometimes white, mostly educated, and are more or less making a conscious decision to live on the economic margins of society. But, regardless of how they got there, they're still short on cash. And deserve assistance.
But I think we need to establish some key points. First, it's important to define what's meant by "poor."
And then we've got to look at the context.
Black communities --and women in particular -- are still reeling from the Reagan-era slander of the "welfare queen." While not synonymous with food stamps, the tag still carries similar implications: black folks are poor and too lazy to work for their own fair share. We all know that, given the statistics, it's a lie. But the connotations are still there, from pop culture to public policy.
On the surface, the news of young, educated white folks on food stamps should help shake up tired old stereotypes. But then there's the issue of who's poor, and who's not.
So what's my point? These "hipsters" may be struggling, but they're not poor. They're in a temporary financial drought. I think poverty is defined by more than just how much money you make. Sure, that's a huge part of the equation.  But so is your level of education and the resources you have to actively change your situation. Privilege isn't just about what you look like or how much you take in on the monthly, it's how much access you have to different windows of opportunity.
My question is: What's being done on a national and institutional level so help those who are really poor?
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