Food Stamp Use in L.A. Pauses At the Million Mark, Awaiting Oil’s Next Move

For the first time in several years, the rate of growth in Los Angeles County food stamp use has slowed. That’s little consolation however given that total participation zoomed from just above 600,000 to over 1,000,000 people since the onset of the financial crisis. As longtime readers know, I’ve tracked the series as a backdoor view on rising energy costs–and in the case of LA County–gasoline costs in particular. | see: Los Angeles County SNAP Users vs. Price of Oil 2007-2012.

Because Americans have shed over 12% of their oil consumption since the peak demand year of 2005, one outcome is that the economy is less sensitive to gasoline prices. This is accomplished by a drop in automobile ownership by household, greater use of public transportation, and perhaps by an even steeper drop in automobile adoption as young people conclude it’s pointless–and unaffordable–to maintain a car. Shall we conclude, therefore, that with recent strength in the US economy that food stamp use can actually fall, and will be less correlated with gasoline prices?

That depends. We know that automobile-rich Southern California is seeing the grand restoration L.A.’s streetcar network. That opens up the possibility that for the first time in the post-war era, a new resident of L.A. could actually contemplate life-without-automobile. However, if the next leg higher in gasoline prices unfolds, above $5.00 a gallon, it is hard to imagine that painful threshold will pass without effect. Gallup polling shows that Americans believe such prices levels would force significant changes in their lifestyle. And besides, while there has indeed been a resurgence of local rail and streetcar transport across the country, we are early in any such transition. Finally, Los Angeles County, while it has its share of high-net worth individuals, is no doubt home to large populations who, because of income level, are hit harder when gasoline prices rise. The recent slowing of food stamp dependency may turn out to be temporary.

–Gregor

  • Brian Merson

    It seems to me that a real societal shift (even just among the young) away from cars pretty much would have to be accompanied by a shift to urban living.  Most American suburbs, and virtually all that fall beyond the first major ring highway, are entirely untenable absent automobile transportation.

    Moreover, if such a shift is happening and is intentional in that it is a conscious decision to forgo a car, rather than a circumstantial happening brought on by lack of ability to purchase, then one might also expect to see the fastest urban growth among this age group in the most walkable cities with reasonable economic prospects.  Public transportation in many American cities has been gutted to the point of being next to useless.  In other cities, economic conditions would not support the variety of jobs necessary to allow for a substantial influx of residents.

    I’m curious if the data supports the idea that the young, in particular, are intentionally choosing to go without cars and move to walkable cities.  Or, instead, is it the case that the young, unable to find jobs, are forced to live at home and borrow mom or dad’s cars?

  • Anonymous

    New article at Counterpunch:

    The Myth of Peak Oil
    http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/03/29/the-myth-of-peak-oil/

  • gregor.us

     He makes the mistake so many made last decade, but which fewer are making now. And that’s this: he thinks reserves equal flows. They don’t. And this becomes especially critical when you get into the slower, more diffuse layer of your resource base. As a result, he makes another mistake: he shows he is not able to use the correct definition of peak oil. Peak oil has nothing to do with running out of oil, or oil resources. It has everything to do with the *rate* at which those resources can flow. HTH. G

  • Anonymous

    I knew you’d have an excellent reply.  Gregor, for heaven’s sake, why not write an article for Counterpunch?  They get great circulation.