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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Increase in graduate degree holders on food stamps

Current economic hardships have left many seeking help from federal welfare programs in an effort to make ends meet. It seems as though no one is capable of escaping the fiscal realities of the present economic climate.

However, a specific subgroup in need of food stamps and other government subsidies may come as quite a surprise. The number of those with some form of graduate degree, whether it be master’s or Ph.D., who receive food stamps has nearly tripled between 2007 and 2010.

Although in comparison to national figures, the numbers representing graduate degree holders on food-assistance may seem miniscule, the drastic increase within a three-year period has many concerned. The findings were released by the United States Census Bureau within the latest Current Population Survey and detail, among other specificities, the growth of factions needing some form of welfare.

The usage of food stamps increased from 17 million individuals a month to 44 million since 2000. This significant increase leaves one in six Americans on food stamps.

In comparison, the number of individuals with master’s degrees who received food stamps swelled from 101,682 to 293,029 within the three-year window. Those with Ph.D.’s, receiving aid from the federal program rose from 9,776 to 33,655.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, which broke the story of the Census Bureau’s newest statistics, interviewed former tenured professor and current academic career consulter Karen L. Kelsky, who stated her concern over the startling numbers.

“It’s gone beyond the joke of the impoverished grad student to becoming something really dire and urgent,” Kelsky said. “When I was a tenured professor, I had no idea that the Ph.D. was a path to food stamps.”

The sect of graduate degree holders seeking federal assistance in the form of food stamps is obviously a minute division of 44 million. However, its rate of escalation is disconcerting for much of the population who holds the assumption that a degree in higher education should land you, if not a well-paying, living wage job.

Michael Bérubé, president of the Modern Language Association spoke to this disconnect between the reality of professorships and the disjointed perceptions many hold of them.

“Everyone thinks a Ph.D. pretty much guarantees you a living wage and, from what I can tell, most commentators think that college professors make $100,000 and more,” he said. “But I’ve been hearing all year from nontenure-track faculty making under $20,000, and I don’t know anyone who believes you can raise a family on that. Even living as a single person on that salary is tough if you want to eat something other than ramen noodles every once in awhile.”

This lack of employment security, even after receiving a master’s or Ph.D. degree, has led to some speculation over undergraduates’ view of further educational pursuits.

Current UC Davis engineering graduate student Ian Jacobs does not think this assessment will be actualized. The stipend program for engineering students at UC Davis is between $20,000 to $30,000 per year. This is purely for living expenses as tuition has also already been covered for those pursuing their graduate degrees.

“Maybe this is different in other fields or even in other branches of the sciences, but I can say pretty certainly for engineering, physics, and chemistry, at least at UC Davis, nobody who’s reasonably responsible with their income is running up a debt,”  Jacobs said.

Associate Professor of English at Santa Clara University Marc Bousquet confessed he is more worried that students are being trained to expect to pay in some way or another for any level of degree.

“A big part of what we do in graduate education is foster this sense of vocation and teaching for love and passion for what you do,” Bousquet said. “We socialize people into accepting the coin of reputation as status capital. Some people are so deeply socialized into the regime of payment by way of status that they are essentially trapped in it for life.”

KELLEY REES can be reached at city@theaggie.org.


  1. This just goes to show you that it doesn’t matter your age, color or how smart you are, everyone has been affected from the US economy. Instead of fighting the food stamp program we should fight to free up more jobs locally so we as a society can get back up on our own 2 feet.

    Check Food Stamp Balance


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