Record Americans live on food stamps amid record number of millionaires

10:45, August 08, 2010      

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by George Bao

The United States has seen a record number of citizens living on food stamps while the number of millionaires has also reached a record high.

The two records have shown that the United States is further polarized in the possession of wealth.

Government statistics show that the month of May posted a new food stamp record as over 40.8 million Americans rely on the government for their food. That means one out of eight Americans rely on government-provided food stamps for a living. The figure is projected to rise to 43.3 million in 2011.

Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program subsidies for food purchases jumped 19 percent from a year earlier and increased 0.9 percent from April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a statement on its website. Participation has set records for 18 straight months.

Meanwhile, unemployment in July stood at 9.5 percent in both June and July, near levels last seen in 1983.

In California, between March 2007 and March 2010, the number of Californians receiving food stamps grew from 2.1 million to 3.27 million.

About 25,900 people received food stamps in Sonoma County, California in June, a 77-percent increase in two years, according to county officials.

The trend mirrors record national enrollment figures for the federal food program, with more than 40 million Americans getting the benefit.

But even as the number of food stamps recipients swells in the county, anti-poverty advocates warn that the impact of the recession can be magnified in areas like Sonoma County that have historically low levels of food-stamp enrollment.

Sonoma ranks 52nd in the percentage of eligible people who are signed up for the program among 58 counties in California. The eligibility analysis is based on the number of residents whose income is at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level as determined by state enrollment and census data from 2008, the latest figures available.

"The level of hardship is so severe that we may find we are failing to reach many more people who need these benefits during these tough times," George Manalo-LeClair, senior director of legislation for California Food Policy Advocates, was quoted as saying by local media.

While the number of Americans relying on food stamps has reached a record high, the number of millionaires has also risen to a peak level, according to the new Metro Wealth Index released recently by Capgemini, a French consulting firm. It calculated the number of individuals with a net worth of over one million dollars, excluding real estate, in the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the United States.

The results provide further indication that the wealthy in the United States have recovered more swiftly than the nation's less- well-off. In the 10 cities in the study, the number of millionaires grew by 17.5 percent in 2009, a year when the national unemployment rate increased from 5.8 percent to 9.3 percent. Most of the gains for the rich are attributed to the climb in the stock markets.

According to Capgemini, the New York Metropolitan area had 650, 000 high-net worth individuals, or people with one million dollars or more in investible assets in 2009. That is 18.7 percent higher than in 2008.

The New York area topped the list of metro-area wealth centers. Its total was greater than the combined total of the next three runners-up -- Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington.

The Los Angeles metro area had 235,800 millionaires in 2009, the second most of any city in the country after New York.

According to the Metro Wealth Index, the Los Angeles numbers for 2009 were up 13.3 percent from 2008, but that was not enough to make up for the 17.8-percent drop in millionaires in the previous year during the heart of the financial crisis.

In New York City, the rise in the number of millionaires in 2009 was enough to make up for the losses the year before.

New York was one of four cities to see its millionaire ranks bounce back to where they were in 2007, along with Washington, Houston and San Jose.

San Jose had the highest percentage of millionaires of any city, which is 5.9 percent, while Houston had the lowest, at 1.9 percent. A total of 2.9 percent of the 10.2 million people in the Los Angeles metropolitan area were counted as millionaires by Capgemini.

Analysts said that the U.S. taxpayers' bank bailouts certainly helped those on Wall Street. That explains why New York has more millionaires than other cities.

Also, finance, technology and oil remain the main sources of wealth in the United States.

While New York, Washington D.C., Houston and San Jose are now above 2007 levels, the rest are still below the 2007 heights.

Source: Xinhua


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