While many people in the nation are withering figuratively and literally at their low-wage earning jobs, corporations and those who lead them find themselves subsidized by the federal government. And the incoming Biden administration is going to have to find a way to circulate money back into the hands of the people. A recent government study revealed some of the nation’s largest and most profitable corporations, including McDonald’s, Walmart, Dollar General and Amazon are devouring taxpayer hand-outs while paying their employees garbage wages. The taxpayer-funded hand-outs take the form of public assistance programs like Medicaid and food assistance, which their workers must turn to in order to feed their families and pay their rent.
“These companies are paying extremely less than what their profits are, and that’s continuously driving low wages,” said Joshua Dedmond, a youth organizer for the Labor Network for Sustainability and a leading voice in the “Fight for $15” minimum wage hike. “Workers can’t even pay their cell phone bills or make rent on the $7.25 minimum wage that these companies are paying their workers.”
The government study, “Federal Social Safety Net Programs: Millions of Full-Time Workers Rely on Federal Health Care and Food Assistance Programs” made little news when the U.S. Government Accountability Office released it in October at the height of the presidential campaign, but the information it contains outlines a persistent problem that has been plaguing the nation for at least three decades.
The GAO discovered 12 million wage-earning adults (ages 19 to 64) enrolled in Medicaid and 9 million wage-earning adults in households receiving food assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program were employed full-time while still needing help.
“Approximately 70 percent of adult wage earners in both programs worked full-time hours (i.e., 35 hours or more) on a weekly basis, and about one-half of them worked full-time hours annually),” according to the report. “In addition, 90 percent of wage-earning adults participating in each program worked in the private sector (compared to 81 percent of nonparticipants) and 72 percent worked in one of five industries.”
These industries included leisure and hospitality, food service and preparation occupations, according to GAO’s analysis of program participation data included in the Census Bureau’s 2019 Current Population Survey.
The report also determined “a majority of wage-earning adults, including Medicaid enrollees and SNAP recipients, worked for large employers (employers with more than 100 employees).” Specifically, 52 percent of adult Medicaid enrollees and 58 percent of adult SNAP recipients worked for these large employers in 2018. In the state of Georgia, for example, 2.1 percent of full-time Walmart employees were Medicaid enrollees. Similarly, about 1,500 McDonald’s employees were Medicaid recipients in Georgia alone. Other company names in Georgia with employees enrolled in Medicaid included Kroger, Dollar General, Home Depot, Waffle House and Amazon, among others.
Georgia was just one example, however. The numbers were eerily familiar from Indiana to Maine, with Walmart and McDonalds being two of the biggest most consistent offenders. Dollar General, Family Dollar and Amazon were rarely far behind in surveys, however. Fast food and hotels usually topped out the lists.
“Nationwide, these companies pay the bare minimum when they are making maximum profits and advancing all these narratives of being a humane place to work,” said Dedmond. “It’s an outrage, and it’s why we’ve fought for a $15 minimum wage.”
Bloomberg reported in August that the COVID-19 pandemic has done little to curb the income of the family that owns Walmart.
“The Waltons are richer than ever, adding $25 billion in the past year to take their combined fortune to an estimated $215 billion,” according to Bloomberg. “With that much money, you could pile $1 million onto each of the 19,368 seats in the Walton arena and still have enough left to give Walmart’s 2.2 million associates about $90,000 each. The family’s unprecedented fortune is almost $100 billion more than the Mars candy clan in second place.”
Dedmond said much of this lopsided outrage could be tweaked with a simple wage increase, but Congress has refused to sign onto one. Senate leader Mitch McConnel has stifled every effort by the Democrat-led House to bring a wage increase bill up for a vote, even though senators salaries are adjusted automatically according to the Employment Cost Index, which tracks changes in private-sector wages and fairly assigns McConnell’s wages according to inflation. The U.S. minimum wage, in comparison, has been stagnant since the 1990s. Currently, most members of Congress have a salary of $174,000. McConnel, as Senate leader, makes $223,500 annually.
Some individual states are addressing the problem by raising wages on their own and without federal oversight, since Congress is deadlocked in the Senate. Florida voters in November approved Amendment 2, which increases the state’s minimum wage from $8.56 to $15 by September 30, 2026—even if the change is incremental with wages rising by roughly $1 a year until 2027.
A $15 minimum wage increase is part of the Democratic Party’s platform, but if Republicans manage to keep the Senate in January by winning both runoff elections in Georgia, the nation will not likely see a federal wage increase anytime soon. It’s one of the issues that people behind the Get Out the Vote effort in Georgia are using to stir up participation in the January runoff.
If you’re in Georgia and this matter interests you in the least, here’s your chance. Early voting for Georgia’s January 5, 2021 federal runoff election begins December 14. If you happened to not have registered yet, you have until December 7 to do it. Visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s website for more information about your polling location, if you don’t know. Then vote.