20% Of All American Households Used Food Stamps Last Year. Who Is To Blame?

| by Jonathan Wolfe

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released data on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) for 2013 recently, and the numbers aren’t good.

Participation in SNAP – commonly referred to as food stamps – is at nearly an all-time high. Out of 115,013,000 households in America, 23,052,388 of them used food stamps in 2013. This means a staggering 20% of households in America were forced to use food stamps at some point in 2013.

These certainly aren’t encouraging numbers. After all, the main reason a person or family would need to use food stamps is if they were either unemployed or their job was not paying them enough money to cover the cost of food without assistance.

While scanning the comment sections of websites reporting on these statistics, I noticed a common theme. Readers overwhelmingly blame the government for this problem. It is the fault of the government, more specifically the current administration, they reason, that so many Americans cannot pay for food using their own incomes.

To be sure, our government has many problems. But in this specific situation, I think this criticism is misdirected. Here’s why I say this.

The government – whether at the federal, state, or local level– employs 8% of all Americans that have jobs. That means that 92% of all working Americans are employed in the private sector. The responsibility to pay 92% of American workers a wage that would allow them to avoid using food stamps rests on the shoulders of market employers – not the government.

Why do so many people not seem to make enough money to cover their essential costs? Is it because the government is imposing regulations on the market that make it difficult for employers to both pay workers a reasonable wage and stay afloat? Not at all.

Corporate profits peaked at an all time high in 2013. This upward trend in profits is expected to continue into 2014 as well. But get this: wages for employees continue to drop. Since 1970, wages for workers ages 25-64 have dropped by 4%.  This drop has occurred despite the fact that worker production and GDP per capita have dramatically increased over the same time span. Even though corporate profits and worker productivity are at all time highs, wages continue to drop.

Workers are struggling. Companies aren’t - on the contrary, they’re thriving. Over the same time period that worker wages have dropped by 4%, executive wages have more than quadrupled. When the world around you is constantly getting more expensive through inflation but the amount you are paid doesn’t keep up, is it any surprise that people need to turn to government assistance to get by?

Nearly all of the working American’s on food stamps are employed in the private sector. These companies are doing quite well, and have more money than ever to pay employees a living wage. Yet here employees are, being paid so little that they need the government’s help to feed themselves. Whose fault is this, the government or the private sector companies fleecing their employees?

The answer is pretty clear to me. 

Sources: CNS News, US Department of Agriculture, Economic Policy Institute, Forbes