Mil¬≠lions of full-time, adult work¬≠ers in the Unit¬≠ed States?‚ÄĒ?many of them employed by Wal¬≠mart, McDonald‚Äôs and oth¬≠er high¬≠ly prof¬≠itable cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions?‚ÄĒ?are paid wages so low they‚Äôre forced to rely on pub¬≠lic assis¬≠tance to make ends¬†meet.¬†
That is the key find¬≠ing of a new¬≠ly released report by the non¬≠par¬≠ti¬≠san Gov¬≠ern¬≠ment Account¬≠abil¬≠i¬≠ty Office (GAO). Com¬≠mis¬≠sioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.), the report ana¬≠lyzed data from 15 agen¬≠cies admin¬≠is¬≠ter¬≠ing Med¬≠ic¬≠aid and the Sup¬≠ple¬≠men¬≠tal Nutri¬≠tion Assis¬≠tance Pro¬≠gram (SNAP, or ?‚Äúfood stamps‚ÄĚ) across 11 dif¬≠fer¬≠ent states.
For all 15 agen¬≠cies, Wal¬≠mart was in the top four employ¬≠ers of Med¬≠ic¬≠aid enrollees and SNAP ben¬≠e¬≠fi¬≠cia¬≠ries, while McDonald‚Äôs was in the top five for 13 of the 15 agencies.
Oth¬≠er major retail¬≠ers and fast-food com¬≠pa¬≠nies were found to be among the most com¬≠mon employ¬≠ers of work¬≠ers receiv¬≠ing Med¬≠ic¬≠aid and SNAP, includ¬≠ing Dol¬≠lar Tree, Dol¬≠lar Gen¬≠er¬≠al, Tar¬≠get, Ama¬≠zon, Burg¬≠er King, Wendy‚Äôs, Taco Bell, Home Depot, Lowe‚Äôs, Wal¬≠greens and CVS. Rideshare ser¬≠vice Uber?‚ÄĒ?which recent¬≠ly spent mil¬≠lions of dol¬≠lars suc¬≠cess¬≠ful¬≠ly defeat¬≠ing a Cal¬≠i¬≠for¬≠nia law that would have made its dri¬≠vers eli¬≠gi¬≠ble for basic work¬≠er pro¬≠tec¬≠tions and ben¬≠e¬≠fits?‚ÄĒ?was also ranked among the top 15 employ¬≠ers of work¬≠ers on pub¬≠lic assistance.
‚ÄúAt a time when huge cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions like Wal¬≠mart and McDonald‚Äôs are mak¬≠ing bil¬≠lions in prof¬≠its and giv¬≠ing their CEOs tens of mil¬≠lions of dol¬≠lars a year, they‚Äôre rely¬≠ing on cor¬≠po¬≠rate wel¬≠fare from the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment by pay¬≠ing their work¬≠ers star¬≠va¬≠tion wages,‚ÄĚ Sanders said of the report. ?‚ÄúThat is moral¬≠ly obscene.‚ÄĚ
The new GAO report echoes the con¬≠clu¬≠sions of sim¬≠i¬≠lar stud¬≠ies by the Uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ty of Cal¬≠i¬≠for¬≠nia, Berke¬≠ley Labor Cen¬≠ter in 2013 and 2015, which found that U.S. tax¬≠pay¬≠ers are sub¬≠si¬≠diz¬≠ing large cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions to the tune of $153 bil¬≠lion per year in the form of pub¬≠lic assis¬≠tance pro¬≠grams to sup¬≠port their low-wage employees.
‚ÄúIt is time for the own¬≠ers of Wal¬≠mart, McDonald‚Äôs and oth¬≠er large cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions to get off of wel¬≠fare and pay their work¬≠ers a liv¬≠ing wage,‚ÄĚ Sanders added.
The fed¬≠er¬≠al min¬≠i¬≠mum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. While a major¬≠i¬≠ty of states have raised their respec¬≠tive min¬≠i¬≠mum wages above the fed¬≠er¬≠al floor in the past decade, 21 states have not. Thanks to union-dri¬≠ven cam¬≠paigns like the Fight for $15 and Unit¬≠ed for Respect (for¬≠mer¬≠ly OUR Wal¬≠mart), eight states and mul¬≠ti¬≠ple cities have enact¬≠ed grad¬≠ual increas¬≠es to a $15-per-hour min¬≠i¬≠mum wage in recent years. And on Novem¬≠ber 3, vot¬≠ers in Flori¬≠da over¬≠whelm¬≠ing¬≠ly approved a mea¬≠sure to raise their state‚Äôs hourly min¬≠i¬≠mum wage to $15 by 2026.
Last July, the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic-led House of Rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives passed a bill to increase the fed¬≠er¬≠al min¬≠i¬≠mum wage to $15 an hour, but the leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion went nowhere in the Repub¬≠li¬≠can-con¬≠trolled Sen¬≠ate. Pres¬≠i¬≠dent-elect Joe Biden sup¬≠ports a fed¬≠er¬≠al increase to $15, but whether or not such a bill can get to his desk in the near future like¬≠ly depends on the out¬≠come of Georgia‚Äôs Jan¬≠u¬≠ary 5 runoff elec¬≠tions, which will decide which par¬≠ty gains con¬≠trol of the U.S. Senate.
In Geor¬≠gia?‚ÄĒ?where vot¬≠ers will soon deter¬≠mine the short-term fate of the $15 fed¬≠er¬≠al min¬≠i¬≠mum wage?‚ÄĒ?the offi¬≠cial state min¬≠i¬≠mum wage is a mere $5.15 an hour, with employ¬≠ers only required to pay $7.25 because of the fed¬≠er¬≠al leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion passed over a decade ago. Accord¬≠ing to the new GAO report, over 143,000 work¬≠ing adults in Geor¬≠gia depend on SNAP ben¬≠e¬≠fits and over 208,000 rely on Medicaid.
Besides rais¬≠ing the nation¬≠al min¬≠i¬≠mum wage, the GAO‚Äôs find¬≠ings also indi¬≠cate the need for fed¬≠er¬≠al leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion allow¬≠ing ser¬≠vice sec¬≠tor work¬≠ers the right to union¬≠ize with¬≠out employ¬≠er inter¬≠fer¬≠ence. After all, the ral¬≠ly¬≠ing cry of fast-food and retail work¬≠ers in recent years has been ‚Äú$15 and a union.‚ÄĚ Because they are orga¬≠nized and can bar¬≠gain with their employ¬≠ers, union work¬≠ers on aver¬≠age earn high¬≠er wages and have greater ben¬≠e¬≠fits than their nonunion counterparts.
In Feb¬≠ru¬≠ary, the House of Rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives passed the Pro¬≠tect¬≠ing the Right to Orga¬≠nize (PRO) Act, which would allow work¬≠ers to win union recog¬≠ni¬≠tion through ?‚Äúcard check‚ÄĚ and remove var¬≠i¬≠ous cor¬≠po¬≠rate-friend¬≠ly legal bar¬≠ri¬≠ers to union¬≠iza¬≠tion. But as with the $15 min¬≠i¬≠mum wage bill passed last year, the PRO Act died in the GOP-dom¬≠i¬≠nat¬≠ed Senate.
Impor¬≠tant¬≠ly, the data used in the new GAO report was gath¬≠ered in Feb¬≠ru¬≠ary, before the coro¬≠n¬≠avirus pan¬≠dem¬≠ic began. Since then, with tens of mil¬≠lions of jobs lost, the already mea¬≠ger social safe¬≠ty net has been stretched to the break¬≠ing point. The tem¬≠po¬≠rary and lim¬≠it¬≠ed eco¬≠nom¬≠ic relief pro¬≠vid¬≠ed by the fed¬≠er¬≠al CARES Act in late March has long since dried up, with no new relief pack¬≠age in sight.
Mean¬≠while, food inse¬≠cu¬≠ri¬≠ty has more than dou¬≠bled from 8.5 per¬≠cent of all U.S. house¬≠holds before the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic to 23 per¬≠cent, and at least 8 mil¬≠lion more Amer¬≠i¬≠cans have fall¬≠en into pover¬≠ty since May. More than 12 mil¬≠lion U.S. work¬≠ers and their fam¬≠i¬≠ly mem¬≠bers have lost their employ¬≠er-spon¬≠sored health insur¬≠ance in the midst of the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic, rein¬≠forc¬≠ing wide¬≠spread calls to enact a sin¬≠gle-pay¬≠er, Medicare for All health¬≠care system.
‚ÄúNo one in this coun¬≠try should live in pover¬≠ty. No one should go hun¬≠gry. No one should be unable to get the med¬≠ical care they need,‚ÄĚ Sanders said.¬†?‚ÄúIt is long past time to increase the fed¬≠er¬≠al min¬≠i¬≠mum wage from a¬†star¬≠va¬≠tion wage of $7.25¬†an hour to $15, and guar¬≠an¬≠tee health care to all Amer¬≠i¬≠cans as a¬†human right.‚ÄĚ
This blog originally appeared at¬†In These Times¬†on November 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work¬≠ing In These Times con¬≠trib¬≠u¬≠tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His¬≠to¬≠ry from the Uni¬≠ver¬≠si¬≠ty of Illi¬≠nois at Chica¬≠go and a Master‚Äôs in Labor Stud¬≠ies from UMass Amherst. Fol¬≠low him on Twit¬≠ter: @JeffSchuhrke.