Observations on Food Stamps

580_6_access_card_frontAs a budding psychologist, I’m interested in the world.  I want to understand the how’s, what’s and why’s of people and their minds.  I’m constantly thinking of studies I would love to conduct, and surveys topics I want to explore.

Last week, I finished an observation.  I’m a cashier/ self-checkout attendant at a grocery store, and I see a lot of different people of all walks of life.  It was at work that I experienced a family using an EBT card for the first time.

A while ago, I somehow immersed a statistic stating that 40% of all EBT users were white.  I can’t cite this source because I don’t know where I saw it, when I saw it, or why I saw it.  But somehow that statistic was planted in my mind.

That really interested me, and I wondered if it was actually true.  I figured it would be fun to observe EBT users at my work, to see if the statistic would hold up.

*Note: I am only a sophomore in college.  This was my first ever try at a study, or observation.  The process was very rudimentary, and is littered with errors.  I do not claim the results are valid.  Instead, I simply look at the findings as a chance for further study.*

In order to gather as much information as possible, I figured 300 hours would be an appropriate amount of time.  I started observing March 2nd, 2016 and finished June 7th, 2016.  I observed a total of 378 people, 250 of which were ‘white’ (as defined by observable characteristics, such as skin color, accent, etc.).  This produced a result of 66.14% of EBT users that were white.  I would like to add that I had no way of making note of returning EBT customers.  Because of this, I simply observed the customers day to day.  I know this inflates my results greatly.


My notes

As seen in my notes, I also observed the food that was bought. If a food item was present more than once in a particular order, it was marked down.  For example, if there was only one fruit item in an order, I wouldn’t mark ‘fruit’ down.  Now, this was dependent on the size of the order.  If the order had only a couple of items, all the items were recorded.  However, if there was a large order, I marked those items that were repeated, or was a prevalent category (such a meat or fruit).  After I had summerized each order, I then further summerized each day of notes in an Excel spreadsheet.

I am predominately the self-checkout attendant.  Through this observation, I noticed that more EBT users go through self-checkout, regardless of the size of the order.  That is not to say that I didn’t have big EBT orders when I wasn’t on register; it was just wasn’t nearly as often.

During this study, I noticed some interesting patterns:

1. A lot of EBT users appeared to be unmarried with children.  Also, EBT and WIC tended to go hand in hand.

2.  A lot of elderly couples used EBT.

3.  A lot of customers who use EBT also had nice clothes, good phones, and a clean appearance.  Only once or twice did I see a customer use EBT who appeared to be truly living in poverty (for example: dirty, unbrushed hair; dirty clothes; children without shoes; etc.)

4.  The statement that ‘Food stamp users only buy junk’ is somewhat true. I categorized junk as ‘cookies, soda, ice cream, candy, pre-made unhealthy meals, etc.’.  These items were bought quite frequently, but meat and large cases of water were bought nearly as often.

5.  Organic food was very rarely bought with EBT.

I do not look at this study, or the results as a definitive study.  I know the process and results are flawed.  But now I have a better understanding of how to conduct an observation, and the world in which I live.  In trying my hand at an observation, my mind was opened to a group of people I knew little about.  And frankly, I am more excited about that than the fact I completed an observation.

I hope this gave you something to think about, and maybe prompt independent research into Food Stamps.  I think there is a lot still to be done and observed and understood about the people using Food Stamps, and the people who actually need the help.

Ciao for now,



2 thoughts on “Observations on Food Stamps

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