What does this measure?
The proportion of households broken out by race and ethnicity that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).
Why is this important?
The SNAP program provides government funding for low-income people to buy food. It therefore indicates how many people in a region cannot support themselves at a basic level. Differences among racial and ethnic groups may reflect the economic health of these groups, as well as potential disparities in access to economic opportunity.
How is our county doing?
In 2017-21, 39% of Hispanic residents and 24% of African American residents participated in SNAP, compared to 9% of Asian residents and 10% of white residents. These rates were similar to the state and nation, except the Hispanic rate was substantially lower nationwide (18%). Participation among Asians also was somewhat lower at the national level (7%). Within Essex County, the City of Lawrence had by far the highest participation rate for whites (32%), as well as a high rate for Hispanic residents (48%).
Since 2012-16, Essex County had slight decreases in SNAP participation among all residents.
How do we compare to similar counties?
In 2017-21, Essex County had a substantially higher SNAP participation rate for Hispanic residents with more than twice as high in Middlesex, MA (19%), and Lake, IL and Westchester, NY (both at 18%). The rate for African Americans in Essex was lower than Lake (30%), but higher than Westchester (19%) and Middlesex (20%). Rates for Asian and white residents in Essex County were somewhat higher than in the comparison counties.
Why do these disparities exist?
Research connects lower incomes and higher poverty rates among people of color to historic and current policies and practices that disadvantaged people of color. These policies and systems, ranging from inequitable access to housing to employment discrimination to education systems that fail to equitably serve all populations, have prevented people of color from fully participating in our economy, locking them out of economic opportunity. This has increased the need for some groups to access programs to support basic needs such as SNAP.
Notes about the data
The Census Bureau asks people to identify their race (white, African American, etc.) separate from their ethnicity (Hispanic or non-Hispanic). So, the totals for these categories cannot be added together, as people show up in both a racial and ethnic group.
The multiyear figures are from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The bureau combined five years of responses to the survey to provide estimates for smaller geographic areas and increase the precision of its estimates. However, because the information came from a survey, the samples responding to the survey were not always large enough to produce reliable results, especially in small geographic areas. CGR has noted on data tables the estimates with relatively large margins of error. Estimates with three asterisks have the largest margins, plus or minus 50% or more of the estimate. Two asterisks mean plus or minus 35%-50%, and one asterisk means plus or minus 20%-35%. For all estimates, the confidence level is 90%, meaning there is 90% probability the true value (if the whole population were surveyed) would be within the margin of error (or confidence interval). The survey provides data on characteristics of the population that used to be collected only during the decennial census.
Studies have found that national survey estimates (including the ACS) of enrollment in public benefit programs tend to underestimate the true rate due to underreporting by participants, when compared with state-level administrative data. Underreporting can occur for a variety of reasons, including the social stigma of program participation and participants' confusion about the source of the services they receive. For these reasons, the estimates reported above should be considered a lower bound of the true estimate.