Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer in the world. It boasts of having 1.2 million Americans on its payroll. Its reported annual profits are around $13 billion. So it's safe to say since it is so big - and so ubiquitous - and so obviously successful - the government can now stop subsidizing it.
Let me explain: I was covering the first stop for the Progressive Caucus' "Speak Out for Good Jobs Now" listening tour held in Minneapolis attended by Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), among others. The first audience member to speak was one Girsheila Green, a young mother from Compton, Calif., who has worked at Wal-Mart for three years. Ms. Green told the crowded church how in her tenure with Wal-Mart, she's received two raises and is now a manager. She makes nine dollars an hour (one dollar above the laughably-low California minimum wage). She pulled from her pocket three cards she claimed most Wal-Mart employees at her store have: a 10 percent Wal-Mart employee discount card, her employee ID and her EBT card (what used to be called food stamps).
She relayed that 80 percent of her store is on food stamps. I'd argue one is too many.
It's true, Girsheila doesn't have to work at Wal-Mart if she feels she's not being paid enough. She can go work somewhere else. She's not being forced to work for a wage that won't feed her family. The same argument can be made for child labor, dangerous working conditions and other labor issues settled in the 20th century by workers standing up for their rights.
Girsheila's individual choice is not the issue at all. Since Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the country, generally doesn't pay its "associates" or "Wal-Mart family members" enough to live on - the giant multi-national corporation is relying on the U.S. government to feed its employees. We, as taxpayers, pay for Wal-Mart's cost-cutting tactics. Profit? Privatized. Nutrition? Socialized.
Think of how many employees use their food stamp cards to buy groceries at the store where they WORK. It's like a nurse having to file bankruptcy due to medical bills.
It would be different if Wal-Mart was a struggling little start-up where loyal employees believed in the company's vision, so being temporarily paid less than an intern is understandable.
But since Wal-Mart is by all measurements a success - it's no longer okay for them to benefit from government handouts. They need to pay people who work for them like people who work for them and not like disposable volunteers in blue vests.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), a just-announced candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, testified in 2005 to the Minnesota Senate. She stated if we eliminated the (laughably low) minimum wage, we could wipe out unemployment. Yes, instead of paying one person eight dollars an hour which makes him eligible for food stamps and (in some cases) Medicaid - let's pay eight people one dollar an hour and they can be eligible for food stamps, Medicaid AND General Assistance. Basically, allow the government to take care of the work force so private industry can have the profit. This is corporate welfare. This is also corporate socialism. The government covers what Wal-Mart gets away with not covering.
To those who enjoy Wal-Mart's ample profits - it's welfare check money laundering. To those who tout "free market" principles, it's not one of them.
Bachmann, who hopped on the tea party bandwagon when it first rolled out on socialized roads, has decried the government even though her family farm and husband's clinic have received government money. Bachmann denied this money has benefitted her personally; but her financial disclosure forms completely contradict that statement.
Bachmann and the tea party are like a 30-year-old who lives comfortably in the family home while railing against parental tyranny and bemoaning the mediocrity of the meals his mother cooks.
In the real world, taxpayers should stop subsidizing Wal-Mart's low wages. Let them pay their employees a living wage. Better yet, let them live up to their own rhetoric when they hire their legions of working poor - let them be treated like "family."
- Tina Dupuy is an award-winning writer (firstname.lastname@example.org).