Being Able-Bodied Doesn't Make Jobs Magically Appear

As most are aware by now, the House Republicans voted to deeply cut food stamps. As even the conservative Tyler Cowen explained, these cuts make absolutely no sense. Unless you just really hate poor people, there is no cogent rationale for this. Of course, in our politics it is OK to hate poor people, and so here we are.

One of the interesting bits of rhetoric that have come out of this whole event is the condemnation of able-bodied people being on the program. The Republicans want to drive able-bodied folks off of the program.

On its face, the focus on able-bodied people is just confusing. SNAP is not a disability program. It's an income support program for poor people, including able-bodied people, including even those who work and have an income. With food stamps, we are just trying to pump up the incomes of the poor, make their lives more comfortable, their families more economically secure, and so on.

But even if we ignore all of that for a moment, the able-bodied focus makes particularly no sense in our present economic climate. If you haven't heard, we are still reeling from the 2008 recession. Full employment has not returned. The economy is not back at capacity. This means, as Texas Governor Rick Perry pointed out a short time ago, there are not enough jobs to go around, able-bodied or not.

The data we have confirms this as well. The red line is the number of unemployed people while the blue line is the number of job openings. In good times these lines are pretty close to each other, but as you can see, they have sharply diverged. In the most recent month for which there is available data, July of this year, there were three unemployed people for every job opening.

Focusing on individuals being able-bodied makes very little sense in any economic climate. But in a recessed economy that is way beneath full employment, it is entirely incoherent. The importance, presumably, of someone being able-bodied is that they can get work. But an able-bodied person cannot get work when there is no work to be gotten. And that's the reality millions of people currently find themselves in.

Of course, this whole post assumes the GOP are actually motivated by any of this rhetoric about able-bodied people. In reality, the GOP always wants to cut the incomes of the poor, and will give any reason, incoherent or otherwise, for doing so.