Policy Shop Weekly Digest: Food Stamps, Poverty, Libertarianism, Homelessness

I had 4 posts over at Demos’ Policy Shop this week. Here is a rundown with links:

Let’s Stop Worrying About Food Stamp “Fraud”. Excerpt:

But check this out: giving people food stamps is basically the same thing as giving them more cash. Suppose I am spending $300/month feeding my family. Then I get on to SNAP and receive a monthly benefit equal to $100. What do I do? Well, I take $100 of my $300 monthly food budget and replace it with SNAP money. Now, that $100 I used to spend on food each month is freed up for me to spend on other things. Because money is fungible, giving me vouchers for a certain kind of spending that I am already doing is no different than just giving me cash.

All trafficking does is short circuit this process. Instead of using the fungibility of money to convert SNAP dollars into actual dollars, a trafficking person just does it directly. There are all sorts of reasons a poor person would want to do this, but more importantly, it’s not substantively different from swapping out SNAP dollars for cash in the legally permitted way detailed in the above paragraph.

The High Chances of Being Poor. Excerpt:

In light of Taranto’s criticisms, an interesting question presents itself: what would this figure look like if it did not include those features which Taranto objects to? If we used the poverty line instead of the near-poverty line and did not include joblessness or welfare receipt into the calculation, how much lower would the figure be? Lucky for us, in a variety of papers and books that came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mark Rank and Thomas Hirschl published data on precisely this question.

In their 2001 paper, Rank and Hirschl used PSID data to determine that 51 percent of people experience poverty (as defined by the Census) at some point in in their life between the ages of 25 and 75.

Fun Times With Libertarianism. Excerpt:

Of course, a libertarian could say that they believe in easements for situations like this, but doing so would unravel the foundations of their entire philosophical system. Consider why anyone would make an exception to property rights in cases like this. It is because they believe that it is wrong to force someone to starve and die in order to honor property rights in this kind of absolutist way. That is, they believe that we should make exceptions to property rights when enforcing those rights ends up being extremely harmful to the well-being of others. But once you’ve conceded that, there is no principled distinction between allowing easements and any other kind of welfare-enhancing exception to private property rights, including regulations, taxes, public goods, eminent domain, and all the other things libertarians claim to hate so much.

More People Experience Homelessness Than You Think. Excerpt:

What’s true of poverty is also true of homelessness. On first glance, it would seem as if homelessness is a very uncommon phenomenon. Every year, HUD does a point-in-time count of homeless people in the US, and in 2012 it concluded that 633,782 people were homeless at the specific time the count was conducted. That figure is around 0.2% of the population. But this point-in-time method, while useful for HUD’s purposes, does not tell the full homelessness story. A 1994 survey (which is mentioned in Stephen Pimpare’s A People’s History of Poverty) found that 14% of people had been homeless at some point in their life. Of those 14%, 7.4% had been “literally homeless” in the sense many people think of it, while the remainder had been homeless in the sense that they were forced to double up with friends or relatives. Of those who had been homeless at some point, 8% had been homeless less than a week, 33% for a week to a month, 46% for a month to a year, and 13% for more than a year.