Thousands of South Dakota children are trapped in poverty

Photo courtesy of South Dakota News Watch

(SOUTH DAKOTA NEWS WATCH) - More than 40,000 South Dakota children, from infants to teenagers, live in families with incomes low enough to qualify for the federal food stamp program, creating challenges for a fruitful childhood and a prosperous adult life.

The number of children in South Dakota families receiving aid in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rose by 47 percent from 2007 to 2017.

Even with some recent improvements, the number of children living on food stamps is on a significant long-term rise in South Dakota.

Studies show that people who grow up in poverty can face educational, social and health challenges in childhood and adulthood.

About 42,265 children lived on food stamps last year. The number of children on food stamps in South Dakota spiked to nearly 50,000 during and after the Great Recession of 2008. But as the rest of the state and nation have mostly bounced back, the food stamp data show that lower-income families have been largely left out of the economic recovery.

“When the recession hit, it just pushed them all into that abyss and they could no longer make ends meet,” said Matt Gassen, CEO of Feeding South Dakota, the largest charity food provider in the state. “There’s an even bigger portion of those who didn’t make it out of poverty and are still behind.”

The jump in food stamp enrollment since the mid-2000s came as other child poverty indicators also ticked upward in the state, according to a recent report compiled by South Dakota KIDS COUNT, an outreach center at the University of South Dakota.

The review showed an increase in eligibility in the National School Lunch Program for low-income students and a significant rise in the number of children in families qualifying for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program during that period.

The income, wage and government assistance data from South Dakota mirrors a national trend over the past decade in which childhood poverty increased. Between 2005 and 2017, 46 of 50 states saw a jump in the percentage of children in families that received some type of public assistance. In 2005, fewer than one in five American children lived in a family receiving public assistance, while last year that figure had risen to one in four, about 18.6 million children in all, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Despite some recent improvements, the nation continues to grapple with helping what researchers recently called a “stubbornly high” number of children in poverty.

For more on this story, visit