Make us your home page
Instagram | Tampa Bay Times
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: Benefit recipients don't outnumber full-time workers 11/01/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 4:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. HSN star Joy Mangano promotes new book: Inventing Joy


    ST. PETERSBURG — After more than 30 years, Joy Mangano knows a thing or two about promoting products. Now she's promoting herself.

    Inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano is releasing her first new book, Inventing Joy on Nov. 7. [TIERRA SMITH | Times]
  2. Moffitt CEO Alan List, new chair of Tampa Hillsborough EDC, outlines goals for 2018

    Economic Development

    Moffitt Cancer Center CEO Alan List was officially elected the 2018 chairman of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. at the EDC's annual meeting held Tuesday night at the Amalie Arena. He endorsed a stronger pursuit of life science business for the region and praised ongoing efforts to raise the national …

    Dr. Alan F. List, CEO of Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center, now wears an economic development hat as the 2018 chairman of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. [Special to the Times]
  3. Demolition begins on wing of Channelside Bay Plaza, making way for Water Street Tampa (w/video)


    TAMPA — The original developers of Channelside Bay Plaza at first wanted the name of the complex to include the word "Garrison." That would have fit, because the center turned out to be fort-like, inwardly focused and unwelcoming.

    A pedestrian bridge in the southwest wing of Channelside Bay Plaza was demolished in Tampa on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. [Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times]
  4. Sunday Supper returns with 25 chefs, food fests galore

    Food & Dining

    Save the date: SUNDAY SUPPER

    This just might be the dinner of the year. The Bern's family of restaurants has organized a James Beard Foundation fundraiser to fund the Bern Laxer Memorial Scholarship for culinary students in the state of Florida for a number of years. But this week they announced the …

    Bern’s Steak House located at 1208 S Howard Ave, Tampa on Wednesday 2/19014
  5. Locale Market changes yet again, rebranding the restaurant as FarmTable Cucina

    Food & Dining

    When Locale Market opened in Sundial St. Pete in Dec. 2014, it was the most-hyped, most-anticipated gourmet market/food hall/culinary playground Tampa Bay had ever seen. Since then, celebrity chef-owner Michael Mina has done what every entrepreneur does in the face of challenges: tinker.

    Chef Michael Mina and chef Jeffrey Hileman work in the kitchen at Farmtable Kitchen in 2016. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times