American Hunger Means A Feast for Some

The empty feastStuck in a cab heading north last time President Obama was in town, I had an opportunity to listen to NPR, a station preferred by many cabdrivers.  It was five p.m. and traffic was at a standstill, so I was able to catch most of ‘Marketplace.’  One of the features was about food-stamp assistance and the many thousands of American workers who don’t have enough to feed their families.

One of the persons interviewed was a Walmart employee, who recalled a painful period recently, when she and her family had had to rely on food stamps, even though she was working full-time.  Her voice kept breaking as she talked.  Embarrassed by her hardship, she was fighting back tears.  To me, her experience was extremely shocking, illustrating how Walmart, one of America’s largest, most profitable corporations, is essentially gaming our federal-assistance programs.  Its lowest-wage workers manage to keep going only by using food-stamps to feed their families.  What’s more, when underpaid workers and others receive food-stamps, they often spend them at Walmart and other discount retailers.

An April 15 article appearing in Forbes magazine reports that “Walmart Workers Cost Taxpayers $6.2 Billion in Federal Assistance.”   The article is based on findings of a new study by Americans for Tax Fairness, which estimates that a single Walmart supercenter costs US taxpayers as much as $900,000 and $1.75 million annually, because Walmart pays its employees so poorly that, to meet their needs, many end up relying on food stamps, Medicaid, and low-income housing.

Similar reports released last fall showed that American taxpayers also foot nearly $7 billion of the annual labor costs at McDonald’s and other leading fast-food companies.

Meanwhile, Walmart is thought to be the single biggest corporate beneficiary of food-stamp spending.  The Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal reported last year that the retailer received as much as 18 percent of all the food-stamp dollars spent.  That amounts to $14 billion annually.   Walmart’s total profits were $17 billion in 2013.

Millions of Americans experience “food insecurity”—meaning they do not know where their next meal is coming from.  An astonishing 1 in 7 Americans (47 million people) rely on food-stamps these days.  Even that figure doesn’t represent the number of Americans who are hungry.  Many elderly people who qualify for food stamps refuse to sign up for them because of their pride, according to Eli Saslow, whose reporting on American hunger for the Washington Post has just won the Pulitzer Prize.

I urge you to read or listen to Krissy Clark’s eye-opening 3-part series, “The Secret Life of a Food Stamp,”

Part 1: ‘The Secret Life of a Food Stamp’
Part 2: ‘Save Money, Live Better.’
Part 3: ‘Hungry for Savings’

Only a combination of social pressure, individual choice, and political action can ensure more Americans a taste of the American feast.

Click on the red links for more information about this important issue.

8 responses

  1. A well written and researched post. Those are indeed very sobering facts which you presented. It seems that now-a-days so many large American corporations just pay their employees the barest minimum yet make tons and tons of money. Walmart and McDonald’s together employ hundreds of thousands of workers who work full time yet simply don’t make enough money. I like to think, that with enough pressure put on them (by unions) that things can change because they can. . . . . AT&T, Costco, automobile companies, and others do pay their employees much better.

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    • The government should not be subsidizing the labor costs of highly profitable corporations–not all corporations engage in the practices described here, but the ones that do should be called out for it. Corporations so often assert their rights–but what about their responsibilities?

      Paying better wages would immediately lead to higher levels of consumer spending, which would benefit so many areas of the economy, and would restore pride to both workers and American companies. Corporations relying on the government for what they should be doing themselves marks a kind of government dependency you’d think they’d eschew. What can the Republicans say to this? “It turns out we love having a big social welfare state, after all”?

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  2. You are so right about corporations whining about their rights, and one of the biggest whines: they want lower taxes. Many, many large and good-sized corporations “hide” cash and manipulate the tax code by sending cash over seas. I’ve been to some non-American Caribbean Islands and—low and behold—there are sooooo many “banks” are on them, just “small offices” with one employee, to mask huge amounts of money that go who knows where from that point. One more quick example: I once saw a flow-chart in Forbes Magazine tracking how a typical Hyatt Hotel is financed. It was INCREDIBLY complicated ! A HUGE web of big bucks moving around in about fifteen different places overseas and in America to dodge taxes.

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    • Many companies and the people in them seem to have lost their appreciation for the degree to which they owe their profitability to the federal government and the social and legal order that prevails in the United States. It makes me sad when successful people and entities game the system, whether it’s Walmart or Apple.

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    • If corporations paid their workers fairly, the government would have less need to give money to poor people, which they do partly in order to stimulate consumer spending.
      It would be more efficient if the low-wage workers were paid more in the first place, I think.
      However, I do respect your opinion and Harris’s too.
      Good to hear from you, by the way.
      We miss you.
      SB

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