Trend: More spending on fun, fewer people reply on SNAP

Average household now spends more than $2,900 annually

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Forget the soaring stock market. Here’s the real evidence the U.S. economy is getting better: Food stamp usage is down, and spending on entertainment — everything from Netflix to Disney World trips — is up.

The average American household now spends more than $2,900 a year, a record high, on entertainment, according to data released Tuesday by the Labor Department. That’s a good sign the middle class is feeling better about how much money is in their piggy banks.

At the same time, the number of Americans on food stamps is dropping rapidly, according to the latest report from on the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an indication some of the poor finally are seeing some benefits of the recovery, too.

Food stamp usage spiked after the Great Recession, when many Americans couldn’t find jobs and struggled to eat. Nearly 48 million people relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP — in 2013, an all-time high. Since then, businesses have gone on a hiring spree.

As more people get jobs, they are dropping out of SNAP.

There were 41.5 million people on food stamps in May, the latest month that data is available.

“SNAP is a program that is designed to help people get through difficult times when they are not working,” says Robert Doar, a senior fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and former head of New York City’s public assistance programs, including food stamps, for Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s taken a long time, but more people are working now.”

The number of Americans relying on food stamps still is far higher than before the recession, when fewer than 30 million people were on SNAP. But it’s now at the lowest level since 2010, and the decline has been accelerating in recent months. Two million people left the program in the past year alone.

As for the middle class, the average American household has been bumping up spending on entertainment steadily since 2013. It has now surpassed pre-crisis levels of spending, at least in nominal terms, according to the latest data for 2016, which the U.S. government released this week.

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