This week, USDA is expected to release its latest update on the food stamp program. It's an important indicator of the nation's economic health — and the prognosis is not good.

Food stamp use is up 70% over the past four years and that trend is expected to continue. The spike began in late-2008 and early-2009 when the worst of the recession was triggering massive layoffs and home foreclosures. Although the economy has been growing since mid-2009, the pace has been too slow to absorb the nearly 14 million people without jobs. Nearly half of those have been out of work more than six months.

As a result, the number of people seeking federal help with groceries has been soaring. At this time four years ago, before the recession hit, about 27 million people were using food stamps. Today, 46 million get help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — what most people call food stamps — which is roughly 15% of the population.

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