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Even As Unemployment Drops, Demand For Food Stamps Rises Across Northwest

2011 saw modest signs of economic recovery in the Northwest. Washington, Oregon and Idaho all had slight dips in unemployment rates. But another economic indicator reveals it’s been a hard year for many families in all three states. That is, the number of people on food stamps.

Let's go back to January. “True Grit” was leading at the box office, the fledgling Arab Spring had not yet taken off, and in the Northwest, about 2 million people were on food stamps.

Now, more than 2.1 million people across Washington, Oregon and Idaho are enrolled on the federal food subsidy program. At least, that’s what the latest numbers show for November. It’s about $274 million in monthly assistance across the region.

Tom Shanahan is with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which administers his state's food stamp program.

“It reacts very quickly to changes in the economy. It's kind of a barometer," he says. "And we've always looked at it for our other assistance programs – as far as something happens in food stamps, we're going to see changes here there down the road.”

Shanahan says true, the number of people applying for food stamps continued to climb each month in 2011. But the rate of increase slowed.

Washington reports the same slowing. However Oregon’s food stamp demand continued to rise at a steady clip.


Food stamps, by the numbers:


January 2011

Households: 95,233

Individuals: 227,848

Total value: $29,793,267


November 2011 (most current data)

Households: 102,176

Individuals: 235,573

Total value: $30,618,610

Source: Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare



January 2011

Households: 404,408

Individuals: 755,906

Total value: $97 million


November 2011 (most current data)

Households: 431,064

Individuals: 793,364

Total value: $102 million

Source: Oregon Dept. of Human Services



January 2011

Households: 542,964

Individuals: 1,051,106

Total value: $133,187,127


November 2011 (most current data)

Households: 576,681

Individuals: 1,097,742

Total value: $141,551,645

Source: Washington State Dept. of Social and Health Services

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.