MilÂlions of full-time, adult workÂers in the UnitÂed States?â?many of them employed by WalÂmart, McDonaldâs and othÂer highÂly profÂitable corÂpoÂraÂtions?â?are paid wages so low theyâre forced to rely on pubÂlic assisÂtance to make endsÂ meet.Â
That is the key findÂing of a newÂly released report by the nonÂparÂtiÂsan GovÂernÂment AccountÂabilÂiÂty Office (GAO). ComÂmisÂsioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.), the report anaÂlyzed data from 15 agenÂcies adminÂisÂterÂing MedÂicÂaid and the SupÂpleÂmenÂtal NutriÂtion AssisÂtance ProÂgram (SNAP, or ?âfood stampsâ) across 11 difÂferÂent states.
For all 15 agenÂcies, WalÂmart was in the top four employÂers of MedÂicÂaid enrollees and SNAP benÂeÂfiÂciaÂries, while McDonaldâs was in the top five for 13 of the 15 agencies.
OthÂer major retailÂers and fast-food comÂpaÂnies were found to be among the most comÂmon employÂers of workÂers receivÂing MedÂicÂaid and SNAP, includÂing DolÂlar Tree, DolÂlar GenÂerÂal, TarÂget, AmaÂzon, BurgÂer King, Wendyâs, Taco Bell, Home Depot, Loweâs, WalÂgreens and CVS. Rideshare serÂvice Uber?â?which recentÂly spent milÂlions of dolÂlars sucÂcessÂfulÂly defeatÂing a CalÂiÂforÂnia law that would have made its driÂvers eliÂgiÂble for basic workÂer proÂtecÂtions and benÂeÂfits?â?was also ranked among the top 15 employÂers of workÂers on pubÂlic assistance.
âAt a time when huge corÂpoÂraÂtions like WalÂmart and McDonaldâs are makÂing bilÂlions in profÂits and givÂing their CEOs tens of milÂlions of dolÂlars a year, theyâre relyÂing on corÂpoÂrate welÂfare from the fedÂerÂal govÂernÂment by payÂing their workÂers starÂvaÂtion wages,â Sanders said of the report. ?âThat is moralÂly obscene.â
The new GAO report echoes the conÂcluÂsions of simÂiÂlar studÂies by the UniÂverÂsiÂty of CalÂiÂforÂnia, BerkeÂley Labor CenÂter in 2013 and 2015, which found that U.S. taxÂpayÂers are subÂsiÂdizÂing large corÂpoÂraÂtions to the tune of $153 bilÂlion per year in the form of pubÂlic assisÂtance proÂgrams to supÂport their low-wage employees.
âIt is time for the ownÂers of WalÂmart, McDonaldâs and othÂer large corÂpoÂraÂtions to get off of welÂfare and pay their workÂers a livÂing wage,â Sanders added.
The fedÂerÂal minÂiÂmum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. While a majorÂiÂty of states have raised their respecÂtive minÂiÂmum wages above the fedÂerÂal floor in the past decade, 21 states have not. Thanks to union-driÂven camÂpaigns like the Fight for $15 and UnitÂed for Respect (forÂmerÂly OUR WalÂmart), eight states and mulÂtiÂple cities have enactÂed gradÂual increasÂes to a $15-per-hour minÂiÂmum wage in recent years. And on NovemÂber 3, votÂers in FloriÂda overÂwhelmÂingÂly approved a meaÂsure to raise their stateâs hourly minÂiÂmum wage to $15 by 2026.
Last July, the DemoÂcÂraÂtÂic-led House of RepÂreÂsenÂtaÂtives passed a bill to increase the fedÂerÂal minÂiÂmum wage to $15 an hour, but the legÂisÂlaÂtion went nowhere in the RepubÂliÂcan-conÂtrolled SenÂate. PresÂiÂdent-elect Joe Biden supÂports a fedÂerÂal increase to $15, but whether or not such a bill can get to his desk in the near future likeÂly depends on the outÂcome of Georgiaâs JanÂuÂary 5 runoff elecÂtions, which will decide which parÂty gains conÂtrol of the U.S. Senate.
In GeorÂgia?â?where votÂers will soon deterÂmine the short-term fate of the $15 fedÂerÂal minÂiÂmum wage?â?the offiÂcial state minÂiÂmum wage is a mere $5.15 an hour, with employÂers only required to pay $7.25 because of the fedÂerÂal legÂisÂlaÂtion passed over a decade ago. AccordÂing to the new GAO report, over 143,000 workÂing adults in GeorÂgia depend on SNAP benÂeÂfits and over 208,000 rely on Medicaid.
Besides raisÂing the nationÂal minÂiÂmum wage, the GAOâs findÂings also indiÂcate the need for fedÂerÂal legÂisÂlaÂtion allowÂing serÂvice secÂtor workÂers the right to unionÂize withÂout employÂer interÂferÂence. After all, the ralÂlyÂing cry of fast-food and retail workÂers in recent years has been â$15 and a union.â Because they are orgaÂnized and can barÂgain with their employÂers, union workÂers on averÂage earn highÂer wages and have greater benÂeÂfits than their nonunion counterparts.
In FebÂruÂary, the House of RepÂreÂsenÂtaÂtives passed the ProÂtectÂing the Right to OrgaÂnize (PRO) Act, which would allow workÂers to win union recogÂniÂtion through ?âcard checkâ and remove varÂiÂous corÂpoÂrate-friendÂly legal barÂriÂers to unionÂizaÂtion. But as with the $15 minÂiÂmum wage bill passed last year, the PRO Act died in the GOP-domÂiÂnatÂed Senate.
ImporÂtantÂly, the data used in the new GAO report was gathÂered in FebÂruÂary, before the coroÂnÂavirus panÂdemÂic began. Since then, with tens of milÂlions of jobs lost, the already meaÂger social safeÂty net has been stretched to the breakÂing point. The temÂpoÂrary and limÂitÂed ecoÂnomÂic relief proÂvidÂed by the fedÂerÂal CARES Act in late March has long since dried up, with no new relief packÂage in sight.
MeanÂwhile, food inseÂcuÂriÂty has more than douÂbled from 8.5 perÂcent of all U.S. houseÂholds before the panÂdemÂic to 23 perÂcent, and at least 8 milÂlion more AmerÂiÂcans have fallÂen into poverÂty since May. More than 12 milÂlion U.S. workÂers and their famÂiÂly memÂbers have lost their employÂer-sponÂsored health insurÂance in the midst of the panÂdemÂic, reinÂforcÂing wideÂspread calls to enact a sinÂgle-payÂer, Medicare for All healthÂcare system.
âNo one in this counÂtry should live in poverÂty. No one should go hunÂgry. No one should be unable to get the medÂical care they need,â Sanders said.Â ?âIt is long past time to increase the fedÂerÂal minÂiÂmum wage from aÂ starÂvaÂtion wage of $7.25Â an hour to $15, and guarÂanÂtee health care to all AmerÂiÂcans as aÂ human right.â
This blog originally appeared atÂ In These TimesÂ on November 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a WorkÂing In These Times conÂtribÂuÂtor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in HisÂtoÂry from the UniÂverÂsiÂty of IlliÂnois at ChicaÂgo and a Masterâs in Labor StudÂies from UMass Amherst. FolÂlow him on TwitÂter: @JeffSchuhrke.