Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Essential Workers Disproportionately Use SNAP To Make Ends Meet
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — A new Center for American Progress analysis finds that people who worked in jobs categorized as essential during the coronavirus pandemic were more likely than the general workforce to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

More than 5.5 million, or 13.36 percent, of people who worked in jobs that would be deemed essential during the pandemic needed SNAP benefits at some point during 2018, while only 7.8 percent of workers in jobs that weren’t deemed essential utilized the program that year.

The analysis also finds that the workers who keep Americans fed frequently rely on food assistance themselves. Workers in the health, agriculture, and grocery industries all report disproportionately high SNAP recipiency rates when compared with workers overall. Almost one-third of essential workers who used SNAP at some point in the year worked in the food and restaurant sector. And approximately 1 in 6 farmworkers used SNAP in the past year.

Due to systematic racism and sexism, workers of color, and especially female workers of color, are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and thus more likely to use SNAP than their white, male counterparts. More than one-quarter of essential workers who use SNAP are Black, and about 27 percent of essential workers who used SNAP benefits are Hispanic or Latinx (of any race). Black women make up almost 9 percent of essential workers, but they represent 17.6 percent of essential workers who have relied on SNAP.

This new analysis builds on a growing body of research around the essential workforce and the ways systemic racial, gendered, and economic inequalities lead to an undervaluing of many of our most important workers.

“Essential workers risk their health and their families’ health every time they show up to work. But because many of these workers are underpaid or face other economic instability, they turn to SNAP to put food on the table,” said Areeba Haider, research assistant with the Poverty to Prosperity Program at CAP and author of the column. “Essential workers deserve better pay and benefits. For immediate relief, SNAP is another proven way to get aid to the people who need it most.”

Read the column: “Congress Must Strengthen SNAP To Support Essential Workers During the Coronavirus Crisis” by Areeba Haider

For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at [email protected].

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.