In five states out of six examined, Amazon was among the top 20 companies with the most employees enrolled in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to number-crunching from the Intercept.
In an interview with Retail Dive and through a subsequent email, an Amazon spokesperson disputed the notion that the e-commerce giant's employees are over-represented on federal assistance rolls, saying that the Intercept's numbers include part-time and seasonal workers. "In the U.S., the average hourly wage for a full-time associate in our fulfillment centers, including cash, stock, and incentive bonuses, is over $15 per hour before overtime," the company said in a statement. Full-time workers also receive full health care and parental leave benefits, the spokesperson noted.
Amazon doesn't employ a disproportionate number of SNAP recipients, according to Stephen A. LeMay, a professor of marketing and logistics at the University of West Florida. "Their presence doesn't raise wages for people in the job categories they employ, but neither does it seem to depress them," he also told Retail Dive in an email.
Walmart has long suffered criticism for its hourly pay, not only from worker advocates but also from states and fiscal watchdogs who argue many Walmart employees are a significant drain on taxpayer-funded social welfare programs. Making Change at Walmart, an unofficial union of Walmart employees, has called on the retailer to use its new tax benefit to provide a living wage.
Now it's Amazon under the microscope. The Intercept said that it asked for data for between 2014 to 2017 "in hopes that several years' worth of numbers would help us establish patterns in Amazon's reliance on the SNAP program," but the five states that responded sent in partial data that included either the single-year data for 2017 or a single month during the year.
That could be an explanation, considering that the number of seasonal part-time workers swells during certain times of the year, the Amazon spokesperson told Retail Dive, adding that, for the most part, 90% of the company's workers are full-time.
Many part-time workers end up working at the company's warehouses full time, and the company's hiring policies could serve to keep wages down as people come and go, according to LeMay. "Part of it is that they have liberal rehire policies," he said. "They will take back thieves after a year in some places."
Retail wages in general are notoriously low, but, under pressure from market forces at a time of low unemployment — as well as many state- and city-set minimum wages that are well above the federal $7.25 minimum — several retailers have bumped up their hourly pay scales. Walmart in January announced plans to increase the starting wage for all hourly employees in the U.S. to $11, including at Walmart stores, Sam's Clubs, e-commerce operations, logistics and the company's headquarters.
Target also moved to a starting wage of $12 per hour with an aim for $15. But Costco has enjoyed the warmest reputation when it comes to giving workers above-average pay and benefits. Last month, Costco Chief Financial Officer Richard Galanti said the company always wants to stay ahead of the pack. Ikea, meanwhile, in the U.S. uses a "living wage calculator" based on one developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that determines a living wage based on an area's cost of living.