The share of households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly called food stamps.
SNAP provides restricted government funding for low-income people that can only be used to buy food. It therefore is an indication of how many people in a region rely on government assistance to meet their basic needs.
In 2013-17, 14% of Essex County households received SNAP benefits, up from 12% in 2008-12. The rate in Essex was a bit higher than the state (12%) and nation (13%). Rates were especially high in Lawrence (42%) and Lynn (29%) in 2013-17.
Essex households participated in SNAP at a higher rate than households in Middlesex, MA (8%) and Lake, IL and Westchester, NY (both 9%) in 2013-17.
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.