The huge financial gap between farmers and nonfarmers becomes even more stark when net worth is considered. The Census Bureau concluded in 1986 that the average net worth of American households was $78,734 and that the median net worth of American households was $32,677 (meaning that equal numbers of households were worth less than and more than $32,677).
In contrast, the average full-time farmer is a millionaire, with a net worth of $1,016,000 as of December 31, 1988. (The net worth figure is after debts have been subtracted.) The average full-time farmer has a net worth almost 13 times greater than that of the average American family and more than 30 times greater than that of half the households of America.
Some liberals advocate continuing government aid to small farmers only, but even part-time farmers are far wealthier than the average American family. Farmers in the $40,000 to $99,999 sales class have a net worth of $426,487--more than five times that of the average American family.
Although farm programs are defended as preserving the small family farmer, farm aid is distributed not according to farmers' needs but according to their net worth: to him who hath, shall be given. In 1988 the most wealthy farmers received over 100 times more in direct federal handouts than did the smallest farmers. By handing big farmers $50,000, $100,000, or more each year, the federal government has provided a war chest that allows big operators to "cannibalize" little operators.
Farm programs are entitlement programs based on the idea that farmers are entitled to higher prices than their customers will pay voluntarily. If the same means test that is applied to other federal handout recipients were applied to farmers, virtually no farmer would qualify for federal aid. In the 1988 drought bill, Congress imposed a "means test," declaring that farmers with gross sales of over $2 million a year were not eligible for drought relief. A farmer with gross revenue of $2 million a year probably has a net worth far above $2 million. That is an interesting cutoff point for neediness--equivalent to a welfare department announcing that any unwed mother who owns more than 37 Cadillacs can no longer qualify for a monthly check.