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Sorting out the truth in politics

PolitiFact: Benefit recipients don't outnumber full-time workers

The statement

"The number of Americans who receive means-tested government benefits — welfare — now outnumbers those who are year-round full-time workers."

Charlie Sykes, conservative radio talk show host

The ruling

Sykes sent us a link to an article that appeared on the CNS News website. CNS News is a project of the Media Research Center, a conservative group that aims to counter what it sees as liberal bias in the media.

The CNS News item accurately cited two reports from the Census Bureau. One report gave the number of 108 million people receiving at least one means-tested benefit. The other gave the number of 101 million people who work full time.

The math seems simple, but those reports don't tell the entire story. Here's why.

The table on recipients of means-tested aid has this note at the top: "The figures for means-tested programs include anyone residing in a household in which one or more people received benefits from the program."

So, if one person receives Supplemental Security Income, a program for disabled adults, the entire household was included in the tally. As a result, it was possible for full-time workers to be counted as recipients.

Another table in the same data collection gives an idea of how common that might be. Out of a total of more than 108 million recipients, there were more than 79 million households with at least one person working.

Second, Sykes said this was a situation that exists "now," but the article is very clear that this information is from 2011. The economy in 2011 is not the one we have in 2013. Among other big differences, unemployment is lower by 1.4 percentage points.

We went to several agency websites to determine participation figures, and in every case they had declined.

Subsidized housing: The 2011 survey had 13 million. For 2012, we found 9 million.

SNAP (food stamps): The 2011 survey had 49 million. For 2013, we found 47 million.

Medicaid: The 2011 survey had 82 million. For 2013, we found 72 million.

TANF (welfare): The 2011 survey had 5.8 million. For 2013, we found 3.7 million.

In contrast, the number of full-time workers went up. The article cited 101 million. In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 142 million.

One final note: The number of benefits recipients includes millions of children under the age of 16 and the elderly. The Census Bureau tally folds in the school lunch program. In the spring of this year, 29 million students benefited from that. About a third of the residents of public housing are older than 62. By most standards, we don't expect these people to work. To compare them to the number of full-time workers might be useful policy information, but to fail to note that children and the elderly, not to mention the blind and disabled, are folded into the tally of recipients is highly misleading.

We rate the claim False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Benefit recipients don't outnumber full-time workers 11/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 4:28pm]
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