The number of Americans who are poor enough to qualify for food stamps has increased by a disturbing 30 million in the last 13 years. In 2000, 17 million Americans were receiving food stamps; in 2013, the number is 47 million. Hoping to stir up racial tensions, far-right AM radio talk show hosts and Fox News wingnuts try to paint food stamp recipients as strictly or mostly people of color. But the facts don’t bear that out. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly half of food stamp recipients are non-Hispanic whites (in Ohio, it’s around 65%). So when Republicans vote to cut food stamps, many of the people they are hurting are white. OnSeptember 19, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to slash billions of dollars from the U.S. food stamp program during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s description of Obama as the “food stamp president” was obviously designed to inflame racial tensions and paint African Americans as freeloaders, but Gingrich neglected to mention that many of the people he considers freeloaders are actually white. When Republicans and the Tea Party contribute to hunger by attacking food stamps, people of color aren’t the only ones who suffer: Republicans are physically harming their own base. Slashing food stamp benefits won’t harm the Koch brothers or JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, but it will definitely harm poor whites in a place like McDowell County, West Virginia, which is 94% white (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), rural and has a life expectancy of only 63.9 for males and 72.9 for females (according to a report that the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington released in July 2013). If life expectancy is any indication, the economic conditions for white males in McDowell County aren’t much better than the economic conditions in Haiti, where, according to the World Health Organization, males have a life expectancy of 62. In contrast to McDowell County, that study showed a life expectancy of 81.4 for males and 85.0 for females in Marin County, California—which is affluent and heavily Democratic.
Owsley County, Kentucky is another example of a place that is predominantly white (97.6%), heavily Republican (Romney won 81% of the vote in Owsley County in 2012) and full of poverty. Bloomberg News has reported that in 2011, 52% of the county’s residents were receiving food stamps—which Rep. Hal Rogers, the Republican who represents Owsley County, voted in favor of slashing. From Kentucky to Mississippi to West Virginia, Republicans who were elected by an abundance of poor whites have voted in favoring of cutting food stamps.
There is no shortage of data on life expectancy that shows a downward trend for poor whites. In September 2012, the New York Times reported that poorer white males were dying much younger than more affluent white males: according to the Times, life expectancy had fallen to 67.5 years for the least educated white males compared to 80.4 for the more educated white males. And theTimes reported that life expectancy was 73.5 for the less educated white females compared to 83.9 for the more educated white females—which is also bad news for the GOP because even though white males are more likely than white females to vote Republican, white females are more likely to vote Republican than African American or Hispanic females. And depriving either white males or white females of access to food and healthcare certainly isn’t going to help them live longer.