Walmart logos from over the past 50 years. (Photo: brandonevano / flickr)Good news everyone, after more than thirty years of searching by the news media, Ronald Reagan’s infamous “Welfare Queen” has finally been found. She lives in Bentonville, Arkansas.
“She has eighty names, thirty addresses,” Reagan warned during his 1976 run for President about a nameless, Cadillac-driving woman who’s conning the social safety net. He added: “She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.” In total, Reagan said, “Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
For more than thirty years, Republicans have used the existence of this “Welfare Queen” to justify their attacks on public spending and prove that the “welfare state” has run amok. Yet, her identity has never been revealed. After decades of searching, the best and brightest minds in the field of journalism were never able to discover who’s behind the wheel of the “Welfare Queen’s” Cadillac, or if she even existed.
That is until now.
We now realize our mistake. In our search for this “Welfare Queen,” we were looking for actual people when we should have been looking for corporate people. We should have been looking at Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart is the largest private employer and brought in more revenue in 2011 than any other company in the nation. Wal-Mart pocketed a not-too-shabby $16.4 billion in profits that same year and the six Wal-Mart heirs, the Walton family, own roughly $100 billion in wealth, which is more than 40% of Americans combined.
But, despite making all of this money, Wal-Mart’s business model hinges on mooching from the government. It hinges on being the biggest “Welfare Queen” in the United States.
Because of the “everyday low wages” that the retail giant pays its employees, our government has to step in and provide public assistance to Wal-Mart workers just so they can survive…which is why the Wal-Mart workforce represents the largest recipient of federal aid in the nation.
A Wal-Mart worker makes on average 31% less than a worker for any other large retailer, and requires 39% more in public assistance.
A recent study by UC Berkeley found that Wal-Mart’s low wages are costing the state of California alone $86 million a year to provide public assistance like food stamps and healthcare to the retailer’s 44,000 low-wage employees in the state. The state spends nearly $2,000 every single year on each Wal-Mart employee who can’t afford basic essentials like housing, food, and healthcare with their Wal-Mart paycheck.
In total, it’s estimated that Walmart stores loot more than $2.6 billion every single year from the federal government in the form of tax-payer funded public assistance to their employees. That includes more than one billion in healthcare costs associated with Medicaid, and $225 million in free or reduced-price lunches for school children of Wal-Mart employees.
And now, as reported by the Huffington Post, Wal-Mart is planning to loot even more from us taxpayers, as the giant corporation adopts a new healthcare policy that will deny insurance for any employees working fewer than 30 hours a week.
Wal-Mart routinely forces their workers into part-time schedules, working fewer than 30 hours a week, so many will lose their health insurance under this new policy. When asked for comment by the Huffington Post on how many workers will be affected, Wal-Mart declined to answer.
Make no mistake about it, while it may be individual Wal-Mart employees who are collecting government benefits, the corporation itself benefits tremendously.
If the government didn’t step in to provide food assistance, Wal-Mart couldn’t operate with a team of emaciated workers unable to lift ballets of canned foods or count back the correct change at the checkout lanes.
If the government didn’t step in to provide health insurance, then Walmart stores would be a breeding ground for infectious diseases since their employees can’t afford to see a doctor on their own.
If the government didn’t step in to provide school-lunch assistance, then parents who work at Wal-Mart may have less money to put gas in their car and may not even make it in to work.
How can a business succeed with a sickly, tired, tardy, or altogether absent workforce? It can’t.
And while most businesses understanding that a healthy, happy, productive workforce is good for business, Wal-Mart hasn’t. Instead, Wal-Mart, with its enormous fortune, has shifted this responsibility onto taxpayers like you and me. They are, indeed, among the biggest of the big welfare queens in America.
The only difference is Walmart actually exists and Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” doesn’t.
With the help of “Welfare Queen” argument, Conservatives have targeted individual Americans who rely on public assistance as irresponsible and argued that it’s time to end the “handouts.”
But in reality, it’s time we target the actual institutions of irresponsibility in America – Wal-Mart and the other corporate giants who don’t give enough of a damn about their workers to pay them a living wage stick us with the bill for their well-being.
If a corporation can’t afford to pay its employees enough that each worker can afford basic essentials like healthcare, food, and housing, then that corporation – no matter how big or small it is – shouldn’t be allowed to do business.