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Local professor calls gov't food aid numbers "eye opener"


GREEN BAY, WI (WTAQ) - A report shows the number of Americans getting government subsidized food assistance is higher than the number of full-time private sector workers.

An estimated 101 million Americans currently receive benefits from at least one of the 15 food programs offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over 97 million hold those full-time jobs in the private sector.

"It certainly is an eye-opener, an eye-popper," says St. Norbert College professor of economics Sandy Odorzynski. 

Odorzynski believes there are several factors in play here. One is the continued slow recovery from the Great Recession.

"It officially ended in 2009, and we usually get a spike back up to health within 12 to 15 months and that just hasn't happened," says Odorzynski. "So here we are four years after the recession and we're still deep down."

A big concern for Odorzynski with regard to the full-time employment number is that the number of part-time workers is growing as a replacement. That will be especially true with the federal Affordable Care Act on the horizon.

"One of the unintended consequences of the act known as Obamacare is that it defines full-time work as 30 hours," says Odorzynski. "A lot of the sectors that are hiring now, the hospitality and retail business, a lot of those employers are trying to avoid having those workers qualify for health care benefits. By keeping workers at part-time, that gives them an edge out. If you're only working part-time, that's gonna help you qualify for those SNAP nutrition benefit programs."

Odorzynski says she expects Obamacare to impact these numbers even more down the road as it takes effect. 

She admits there's no easy solution to this problem. But an alarming trend to go along with this, which she says may help explain the growth in Americans needing government assistance, has to do with the rise of children born in unwed circumstances.

"If you compare today with 1980, we have two-and-a-half times greater proportion of births to unwed women," says Odorzynski. "If you're unwed and you have a baby, how are you going to juggle going to work and caring for a baby and so if you don't work, and then you're going to qualify for this special assistance."

Odorzynski also believes that Greece can happen here in the U.S. if we're not careful.

"Absolutely. I think we have to be very careful that the number of people receiving does not become so large that it becomes the voting majority and therefore we have a tipping point that has too few helping out the too many," says Odorzynski.

She recommends screening more carefully for people who are able-bodied, non-elderly to meet some significant qualifiers for them continuing on the program.