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Majority of Americans receiving food stamps are working-age

For the first time, working-age people make up the majority of Americans relying on government food stamps — a major shift in trends from a few years ago when children and elderly made up the bulk of those receiving the benefit.

Food stamps cover roughly one in seven Americans. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 50 percent of U.S. households receiving food stamps are now headed by someone between the ages of 18 and 59. Comparatively, in 1998 the share of working-age Americans earning food stamps was 44 percent.

According to James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research, the shift has been years in the making. Ziliak points to the 2001 and 2007 economic recessions as cause for more working-age Americans to enroll in the food stamps program.

The data also suggests the program is increasingly covering the middle class. Today, twenty-eight percent of food stamp households are headed by a person with at least some college training, up from eight percent in 1980.

Meanwhile, the share of people with four-year college degrees on food stamps rose to seven percent over the same period. High school graduates who head the bulk of food stamp households, were up to 37 percent. And households headed by high school dropouts have decreased by more than half to 28 percent.

While the unemployment rate has improved in recent months, economists suggest that it is unlikely that we’ll see a decrease in the number of people using food stamps.

The data comes amid fervent debate in Congress over the food stamp program. On Nov. 1, more than 47 million food stamp recipients saw their checks cut when a temporary addition in benefits to the program expired.

President Obama plans to address income inequality in his State of the Union address, Tuesday.

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