US Cities Where the Most Families Need Food Stamps

Inflation has driven up the prices of nearly all goods and services, including necessary items such as groceries. The cost of a carton of eggs was 32% higher in May compared to a year ago. According to a report by Moody’s Analytics, American families pay $311 more each month, on average, for essential goods compared to one year ago. To survive the price hikes, millions of Americans may have to rely on the government’s food assistance benefits, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 

As of 2020, roughly 13.8 million American households, about one in 10, received SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. At the more local level, there are relatively affluent communities where SNAP recipiency rates are much lower.   

To rank the 50 cities with the lowest SNAP recipiency rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed five-year estimates of the share of households that received SNAP benefits in the past 12 months from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey. We defined cities based on a population threshold — places with at least 25,000 in population. 

As of 2020, 11.4% of U.S. households received SNAP benefits. Among the 50 places on this list, that share ranges from 2.2% to as low as 0.9%. California has by far the most cities with the lowest SNAP recipiency, with 14.

While factors such as assets and household composition impact whether a household qualifies for the benefit, SNAP recipiency is primarily determined by income. So, as might be expected, cities with higher incomes tend to have relatively few households receiving SNAP benefits. The national median household income is $64,994. Out of the 50 cities on this list, all but one have higher median household incomes. In Lexington, Massachusetts, which has a SNAP recipiency rate of 2.0%, the typical household has an income of $185,686. These are the states where the most children live in Poverty. 

Because income is the primary determinant for SNAP recipiency, unemployment is a major determinant in how many people receive benefits, as those Americans who are out of a job are likely to have little to no income. Nearly all of the cities on this list have five-year average unemployment rates lower than the U.S. five-year average unemployment rate of 5.3%. Vestavia Hills, Alabama, which has a SNAP recipiency rate of 1.8%, has a five-year unemployment rate of 1.7%. These are the states with the worst spikes in unemployment since the pandemic began.

Click here to see cities with the lowest SNAP recipiency rates

To determine the cities with the lowest SNAP recipiency rates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed five-year estimates of the share of households that received SNAP benefits in the past 12 months from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey.

We used census “place” geographies — a category that includes incorporated legal entities and census-designated statistical entities. We defined cities based on a population threshold — census places needed to have a population of at least 25,000 to be considered. 

Cities were excluded if the SNAP recipiency rate was not available in the 2020 ACS, if there were fewer than 500 households, or if the sampling error associated with a city’s data was deemed too high.

The sampling error was defined as too high if the coefficient of variation — a statistical assessment of how reliable an estimate is — for a city’s SNAP recipiency rate was above 15% and greater than two standard deviations above the mean CV for all cities’ SNAP recipiency rates. We similarly excluded cities that had a sampling error too high for their population, using the same definition.

Cities were ranked based on the share of households that received SNAP benefits in the past 12 months as of 2020. To break ties, we used the number of households that received SNAP benefits in the past 12 months.

Additional information on poverty rate, median household income, and unemployment rate are also five-year estimates from the 2020 ACS.

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