Head Smacker: Minimum Wage Workers Forced to Rely on Public Subsidies While Their Employers Make Billions
Last Thursday, a group of minimum wage earners and supporters gathered on the steps of the Capitol to urge Members of Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. Many at the rally brought spare pairs of shoes with them as a symbol of their challenge to Congress to walk in the shoes of millions of people who are living on the minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet. CHN’s Deborah Weinstein joined Representatives. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) in speaking about how they tried – and sometimes failed – in their efforts to take the Live The Wage challenge, in which they worked to live on $11/day (read more about Deborah’s story of her time with the challenge here). In between chants of “Can’t survive on $7.25,” a minimum wage worker and mother of two told of her daily struggles. All of the speakers urged Congress to act.
In her speech, Representative Schakowsky mentioned big businesses like McDonald’s that make millions – and even billions – of dollars in profits every year, but point their low-wage workers to federal subsidy programs for help making ends meet rather than paying them a higher wage. In the McDonald’s case, an employee help line offered information about receiving food stamps and applying for Medicaid. A 2013 study from the National Employment Law Project found that employees of McDonald’s alone receive a total of $1.2 billion in public assistance benefits annually. This, despite the fact that McDonald’s made $5.46 billion in profits in FY 12, and its CEO Donald Thompson made $13.7 million.
According to our friends at Americans for Tax Fairness, the annual cost to taxpayers of Walmart workers relying on public assistance programs due to low wages and benefits is $6.2 billion, even though Walmart made $16 billion in profits last year (other tax breaks to the Walmart corporation and the Walton family cost the U.S. several billion more, but that’s a topic for another blog post). In fact, Oxfam America’s study on “Working Poor in America,” tells us that 32 million low-wage workers have to turn to food stamps just to have enough food in their households.
Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 would raise wages for 28 million workers, lift nearly 6 million people out of poverty, generate $4.6 billion in annual savings in SNAP/food stamps, and increase GDP by roughly $32.6 billion. All this while costing corporate America only one-third of one percent.
There’s talk that the Senate might vote on the minimum wage increase again in September, though it still faces united GOP opposition. Even if it passes the Senate, it faces a tougher uphill battle in the Republican-led House. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying. Tell your Members of Congress to support a minimum wage increase, and download Half in Ten’s updated minimum wage toolkit for sample op-eds, state data, Live the Wage challenge follow-up activities, and ways to tell your story via Our American Story. It’s past time Congress gave minimum wage workers a raise, even if their multi-billion dollar employers won’t.