SUNDAY, DEC 15, 2013 01:00 PM CET
Poverty nation: How America created a low-wage work swamp
For decades, both parties supplanted a push for higher wages with well-intended public aid. The result: calamity
2013 is the year many Americans discovered the crisis of the working poor. It turns out it’s also the crisis of the welfare poor. That’s tough for us: Americans notoriously hate welfare, unless it’s called something else and/or benefits us personally. We think it’s for slackers and moochers and people who won’t pull their weight.
So we’re not sure how to handle the fact that a quarter of people who have jobs today make so little money that they also receive some form of public assistance, or welfare – a proportion that’s much higher in some of the fastest growing sectors of the workforce. Or that 60 percent of able-bodied adult food-stamp recipients are employed.
Fully 52 percent of fast-food workers’ families receive public assistance – most of it coming from Medicaid, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit — to the tune of $7 billion annually, according to new research from the University of California-Berkeley’s Labor Center and the University of Illinois.
McDonald’s workers alone receive $1.2 billion in public aid, the study found. This is an industry, by the way, that last year earned $7.44 billion in profits, paid their top execs $52.7 million and distributed $7.7 billion in dividends and stock buyback. Still, “public benefits receipt is the rule, rather than the exception, for this workforce,” the study concluded.
Then there’s Wal-Mart, which as Salon’s Josh Eidelson recently reported, boasted to a Goldman Sachs conference that “over 475K” of its 1.3 million workers make more than $25,000 a year – which lets us infer that almost 60 percent make less.
Democrats on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce estimated that the giant low-cost retail chain benefits from many billions in public-assistance funding; one Wisconsin “superstore” costs taxpayers at least $1 million a year in public assistance to workers’ families. Remember, too, that six members of the Walton family own as much wealth as 48 million Americans combined.