Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich caught my attention after his South Carolina primary victory Saturday when he claimed that he offers Americans “a life of independency and paychecks” while President Obama offers “a life of dependency and food stamps.”
One problem with that formulation: Many recipients of food stamps (officially called Food Support in Minnesota) also collect paychecks.
Thirty percent of more than 200,000 food-stamp-dependent households in Minnesota also earn income, according to a May 2011 report by the state Department of Human Services.
Those who are working have monthly incomes, on average, of $1,219. For full-time workers, that translates to an hourly wage of $7.03. (Minnesota minimum wage is $6.15/hour for large employers, $5.25 for small ones.)
Among the 73,576 Minnesota families (at least one adult and at least one child) receiving food stamps, 60 percent are employed, with average incomes of $1,416 per month.
Many Food Support recipients without earned income are either seniors or disabled people who rely on Social Security or other federal income sources, the report notes.
Clearly, in Minnesota, some paychecks are too small to exempt those who earn them from hunger and food stamp dependence. When wages and benefits are too low to keep food on American tables, putting people to work isn’t sufficient to create a less government-dependent society.
What can be done so that work works for more Americans?
I’m hoping that the great national conversation that a presidential election inspires will turn to that question this year.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.
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