New York U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will take any chance to attack Amazon, even using misleading claims to do so. 

Recently, AOC tweeted that Amazon warehouse jobs are a “scam”: 

She responded to a Bloomberg story that 4,000 Amazon workers were on food stamps according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report and blamed low wages.

Instead, AOC thinks we need more public spending on infrastructure, small businesses, and worker cooperatives. 

AOC and other critics believe that if a worker is not earning an arbitrary and subjective so-called livable wage, it’s because her employer is exploiting her or ripping her off. Lawmakers and activist groups rely on distressing anecdotes to support their misleading claims even if a full picture of the data tells a different story. 

The attack against Amazon could just as easily be an attack against any other (large) employer. According to the GAO report, Amazon is not the only employer with workers who reportedly received food stamps. The lists vary by state but include CVS, Walmart, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Dollar General, Home Depot, and many others. State workers are also on that list too. Would critics say that the state agencies are ripping off their workers?

Here’s why AOC is wrong, again

Blaming low wages for why some workers manage to qualify for food assistance is misleading. Food stamps or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a relatively fluid public welfare program in that individuals can qualify for it in different ways and from one month to another. 

First, workers may choose to work part-time, perhaps to balance caregiving responsibilities, and that allows them to qualify for food stamps.

Second, eligibility is determined on a monthly basis, making it possible that a worker qualifies for food stamps one month and then is ineligible the next.

Third, SNAP eligibility is not only determined by income relative to the poverty level but household size. A full-time worker earning $15 an hour (the minimum at Amazon) could qualify if someone in her household is disabled or elderly. Also, the poverty limit is lowered depending on the size of your household such as having small children.

Fact-checkers have called out AOC over this claim in the past (see here and here).

Policies should promote economic mobility 

Critics use food stamp participation as evidence that workers are underpaid. For years, however, states and Washington have found creative ways to expand eligibility for welfare benefits, during crises and afterward.

Public assistance is meant for the poor, and the real question is whether our welfare programs truly only serve those who need it. Conservatives aimed to right-size programs by tightening eligibility, especially when unemployment is low and jobs are plentiful. They were met with resistance and will not find allies in the incoming Biden administration, but we should not abandon the effort.

Furthermore, welfare is not what Americans should aspire to, but aspire to leave. Policies should consider how to help workers and low-income Americans experience economic mobility. That includes helping them gain the skills and experience to climb the ladder into management positions or to obtain higher-paying jobs. This includes workforce development, a strong jobs market that pushes wages higher, and job opportunities in areas with lower costs of living. A pay raise only goes so far if you live in an area with expensive rents and mortgages. 

The irony of AOC’s criticism is that she ignores how many jobs they bring to rural and suburban areas with few job opportunities. Massive warehouses require large swaths of land and plenty of workers. This can be a boon for workers and the local economy. No longer is job growth concentrated in pricey urban areas.

Finally, lawmakers should not pass judgment on which jobs are good or not, unless they are illegal. Warehousing jobs are booming right now and have been critical during this pandemic. Workers who choose to support their families working at Amazon or anywhere else should not be made led to think that their employment is a “scam.”

The takeaway

Stories of employed workers struggling to make ends meet should spur us to pursue policies that encourage their economic mobility while meeting their individual needs rather than one-size-fits-all policies that will leave them dependent on the government and competing for fewer opportunities.