In a Nov. 19 cover story ("Food stamps surge"), WORLD reported projections that half of U.S. children are or will be in a household that uses food stamps at some point during their childhood. Those are projections, but here's a new tipping point: Department of Education officials report that the proportion of U.S. fourth-graders enrolled in the free or subsidized school lunch program has climbed from 49 percent in 2009 to 52 percent this year.
The 21 million children now enrolled in the program come from households with incomes (for four people) up to $41,348. The number of children in the program has grown partly because of increased unemployment, but to a large extent because Congress now requires school districts to match student enrollment lists against lists of food stamp recipients, and automatically enroll in the meals program those who receive food stamps.
Many urban schools also offer free breakfasts, and The New York Times reports that schools are adding "free supper programs, fearing that needy students otherwise will go to bed hungry." In Las Vegas, a huge increase in the number of students to be fed "forced the Clark County district to add an extra shift at the football field-size central kitchen."
In 20th-century socialist writing (for example, August Bebel's Women Under Socialism) and dystopian novels (Aldous Huxley's Brave New World), central kitchens had a central role in breaking down family bonds. Such long-range concern may seem over the top at a time of increased joblessness and single parenting, but as Milton Friedman pointed out, there is no truly free lunch. Federal meal programs now feed not only most schoolchildren but an entitlement mentality: Parents who once prepared bag lunches for their children, or gave them money for school lunches, now rely on government.