As I Christmas shopped at Walmart last night, I remembered why I shouldn’t have.
Don’t get me wrong, the products were plentiful, the prices were low, and there were plenty of checkout lines in play. If I needed help, there were dozens of blue-vested workers hustling around. Sure, hundreds of shoppers packed the aisles from Electronics to Health and Beauty to the glass wall of Milk, Eggs, and Butter, but we were all doing our holiday best to avoid jousting our carts into one other. Nope, the store itself didn’t remind me of Walmart’s crooked nature.
It was Miss Madelyn, the lady in line with me, who did.
She was in front of me and we had made some polite conversation about the hassles of holiday shopping around her full time work schedule and the inconsistencies of the Texas winter weather. While Miss Madelyn was having her items scanned, she began talking and laughing with the clerk and it became clear from their conversation that they were actually co-workers. And that’s when this friendly, good-natured, off-duty Walmart worker did the thing that reminded me of why I shouldn’t have been shopping there in the first place.
Miss Madelyn whipped out her food stamps.
All right, technically she swiped a plastic card that said ‘Benefits’ on it, but I could tell what it was and it reminded me of how Walmart conducts its business. First off, Wal-Mart is the country’s largest private employer, with 1.5 million employees in the United States alone. And it’s a hugely profitable one: it generated $482 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2016.
But does all that growth ‘trickle-down’ like it’s supposed to?
No, and that’s a problem. An employee working 34 hours per week (which Wal-Mart considers full time) at $10 per hour still earns less than $18,000 per year and cannot meet her family’s basic needs on Wal-Mart’s wages alone, even in states with low costs of living, according to a recent study. (Link to Article)
Thus Miss Madelyn’s food stamps.
You see, $10 an hour in 2017 is not enough to pay for her food, healthcare, and decent housing, let alone a higher education or outside training for advancement. As a result, many thousands of workers like her have to go on Medicaid, use food stamps, and depend on subsidized housing to survive. These are all fellow Americans who are working their booties off for as many hours as they can get scheduled for, yet they’re still only able to survive by depending on public assistance.
So why should the rest of us care?
Well, because it’s the right thing to do, of course, but if that’s not enough for you, how about because it’s costing the rest of us a ton of money. Walmart’s low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidized housing, according to an Americans for Tax Fairness report published. (Link to Article) (Link to Report)
And it’s not just Walmart that does this.
Other large retail chains have been the focus of similar reports in recent months. In October, ‘two studies released to coincide showed that the American fast food industry outsourced a combined $7 billion in annual labor costs to taxpayers. McDonald’s alone accounted for $1.2 billion of that outlay. Yum Brands came in at a distant number two, with its Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and KFC subsidiaries costing $648 million in benefits programs for workers each year.’ (Link to Article)
Thankfully, Rep. Ro Khanna (CA) and nine House co-sponsors are introducing legislation to put an end to this free ride.
The Corporate Responsibility and Taxpayer Protection Act (CR&TR Act) would ‘levy a fee equivalent to the public assistance that a company’s employees are eligible to receive, with the intent to incentivize businesses to pay their employees enough so they don’t need public assistance.’ Unfortunately, ‘a bill like Khanna’s stands no real chance of passage in the current Congress, controlled by Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on one end and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the other.’ (Link to Article)
That’s where the rest of us can make a difference.
Remember, the leaders we elect for congress in 2018 will determine the outcome of issues like this one. The men and women you vote for pass laws that either reward the Miss Madelyn’s of America for their hard work (like the CR&TR Act) or financially punish her and the rest of us by continuing to let big corporations like Walmart and Yum Brands depend so heavily on corporate welfare.
And the latter only happens if we truly forget why American is so great in the first place.
- Mike Lukas
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