Government-supported retail

On Black Friday, people turned out to protest the working conditions at Walmarts across the country.

For people who don’t want any government interference, the family that owns Walmart certainly relies pretty heavily on the feds.

About 80 percent of the people who work for Walmart are eligible for food stamps. All told, these hard-working people get $1 billion in government assistance, and the Walton family walks away with billions in profits.

Walmart employees make an average of $8.81 an hour, according to IBISWorld, an independent market research group. In most parts of the country, living wage is almost double that. A living wage is what it takes to pay rent on modest living space, buy groceries, own a car and pay utilities. There is no cable TV calculated into living wage, no meals out, no evenings at the movies, no smart phone with unlimited data.

This wage adds up to annual pay of $15,576, based upon Walmart’s full-time status of 34 hours per week. That wage, if you’re a single parent with three kids, is well below the federal poverty level of about $22,000 for a family of four.

Walmart employs 1 percent of the US population, but its payroll doesn’t come close to 1 percent of total wages paid in the country.

According to a paper by the Center for Labor Research and Education at University of California Berkeley, if Walmart started paying a $12 per hour, its workers who now make less than $9 per hour could each earn $3,250 to $6,500 more per year before taxes. If Walmart were to pass this cost directly to shoppers, the average consumer would need to pay only 46 cents more per shopping trip, or $12.50 per year.

Last week, Walmart announced that it would stop offering health insurance to new employees who work less than 30 hours per week. And you can bet most new employees will work less than 30 hours per week.

The company cited the costs of the Affordable Care Act, even though the law isn’t fully implemented for another year.

It’s just another excuse to screw the workers and keep them in poverty.

Walmart can afford to pay a better wage and more benefits. Compare it to Costco, where the average employee earns about $17 an hour and has health coverage. No, the CEO won’t be able to make more than 1,200 times what the average employee makes. Big deal.

A living wage would allow people the dignity of making their own decisions about their spending instead of having to rely on the government agencies that subsidize their food, rent and health care costs.

Walmart typically goes into markets and undercuts the prices of local merchants, driving many of them out of business. It keeps wages low, and with few other options for retail jobs in many communities, its employees have to stay on.

Sure the prices at Walmart are low — they’re subsidized by all of us taxpayers.


Let’s talk about poverty

I just took a pledge to talk about poverty.

I took the pledge at because too many people think people in poverty did something bad to get there.

The truth is that people in poverty are NOT lazy. In fact, many work two or three jobs and still don’t make enough to make ends meet. All many people can find is part-time work, and those jobs don’t come with benefits like sick days, vacation time or health insurance.

More people than ever are getting government assistance. Do you know why that is? It’s because we’ve seen a dramatic decline in workers’ rights, so wages have been going down for most people. So many good-paying jobs have been shipped overseas and replaced with low-paying service jobs that people who once donated to charity now depend on it to put food on the table.

Poverty rates have risen at a record pace, and the number of people living near the poverty level has shot up as well.

The poverty level for an individual is just over $11,000 a year. Try and live on that. You won’t be able to.

Even if you work full-time at minimum wage, you only earn $15,080 a year, based on a 40-hour work week. In nearly every city in America, you need twice that to live independently.

President Lyndon Johnson believed that if we really met the needs of just one generation, we could all but eliminate poverty. But his vision of the Great Society was derailed by the Vietnam War, and no one has had the political will since to even suggest that people in poverty deserve a hand up.

People in poverty often lose hope, and once someone has lost hope, they care a lot less about the rights of the wealthier people who seem to flaunt their good fortune.

Poverty causes crime. It breeds diseases that could be eliminated by proper nutrition (such as Type 2 diabetes).

People in poverty have shorter lifespans because of the stress they endure trying to provide for themselves and their families — not to mention their lack of access to health care.

People in poverty are not lazy; they are not mooches. Any one of us could land in the same place in a matter of months. Few Americans have enough savings to last longer than six months without an income.

Imagine if you got sick and it took a year to get approved for disability. This is not far-fetched; it took my son three years to get disability. You likely would lose your house if you’re lucky enough to own one. And even with disability, you income would be reduced drastically.

Imagine your job was shipped overseas and the only job you could find paid just half of what you used to make. How long could you survive at your current level?

How about if that new job didn’t have health benefits and you got sick? Would you be able to find a doctor who would bill you? If so, how long do you think that doctor would wait to be paid?

Meanwhile, how do you afford new clothes for your children as they outgrow the old ones?

Then what happens if your son falls down and breaks a tooth?

Now your auto insurance is due and you need that car to get to work, but you’re two months behind on your utility bill. Which do you pay?

You’ve already maxed out the credit cards in hopes you can pay it all back when a better job comes along.

Then the car breaks down and you fall another month behind on the mortgage.

Are you a lazy bum?

None of this scenario is far out. I know people these things have happened to. I have seen people foreclosed upon in similar circumstances.

I’m really tired of hearing we can’t afford to make people’s lives better. There is plenty to go around. Right now, the people in the top 2 percent are hoarding far more resources than they need to have. Their greed has become a pathology, and it needs to be addressed.

We need to make noise — a lot of noise — about poverty and our desire to eliminate it.

Please, go to and sign the pledge. Then talk about poverty and the damage it is doing to human beings who deserve better.





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