On the News With Thom Hartmann: We Can Pay for Social Programs by Eliminating Corporate Welfare, and More

In today’s On the News segment: We can easily pay for social programs by eliminating the big government handouts to Wall Street, Big Oil, defense contractors and other corporate welfare recipients; white workers have almost five times as much wealth in retirement accounts as Black workers; a new bill in New York State would control what items poor people are allowed to put in their grocery carts; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Economic and Labor News…

You need to know this. Using our tax dollars to pay for the things our country needs is not giving away “free stuff.” But, that’s the line we keep hearing in response to our push to expand social programs. When we talk about things like free college, expanding Social Security or expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, the typical Republican reply is that we simply can’t afford such big ideas. But, those same people never bat an eyelash when we spend astronomical amounts on war, tax cuts or corporate welfare. According to recent article over at USUnCut.com, expanding health care, investing in new public works programs, offering free college at public universities and enacting paid family leave would cost our nation an estimated one-and-a-half trillion dollars. But, we could easily pay for such programs by eliminating the big government handouts to Wall Street, Big Oil, defense contractors and other corporate welfare recipients. And, that doesn’t even consider how much the progressive proposals mentioned earlier will stimulate our economy by putting more money in the pockets of Americans who will go out and spend. Ever since the Reagan presidency, we’ve been told that government is the problem and that slashing taxes is the solution. Then, the rich and the powerful rigged the system to make sure that government is still large enough to hand out corporate welfare and that taxes are only cut for those at the top. The fact of the matter is that “We, The People” are the government, and we get to decide how to spend our tax dollars. We can either have a government that supports the billionaires, or we can have a government that works for average Americans. The only “free stuff” we can’t afford is the pile of conservative talking points designed to make us believe that we shouldn’t want a government that works for us.

There are many ways that African Americans are still disadvantaged in our country, but few of them are as glaring as the disparity we see in retirement savings. According to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute, white workers have almost five times as much wealth in retirement accounts as Black workers. And, that disparity has grown substantially since 1980. That’s when many Americans lost the protection of an employer-based defined-benefit retirement plan in exchange for a self-funded, risky 401(k). Thanks to hiring discrimination and other wage disparities, in 1989, white families already averaged about $35,000 more in retirement savings than Black families. With the switch to 401(k) retirement accounts, that difference had grown to almost $100,000 by 2013. And, the percentage of African Americans who even get the chance to contribute to a retirement account is actually declining. In 1983, 52 percent of Black Americans had an employer-based pension plan, but by 2014, only 47 percent of Black workers have a retirement plan of any kind at work. No American should be forced into poverty just to retire, and it’s time close the racial gap in retirement plans.

While Republicans were caucusing in Nevada, the workers at Donald Trump’s Las Vegas casino were celebrating their own win over the billionaire. According to the ThinkProgress blog, just days before that caucus, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sided with workers and overruled management’s objections to a union vote at that casino. One of the housekeepers at Trump’s casino said, “He says he wants to make America great… Well, he should start here in his own house, his own business.” She added, “He always brags about how he has millions and millions and millions of dollars, but he pays his workers less than most in Las Vegas.” That’s why workers at his casino decided to unionize, and why that vote was upheld by the NLRB. Hopefully, that’s the first of many Trump losses yet to come.

For decades we’ve heard Republicans complain about so-called “Big Government,” but the conservatives in New York state must have more friendly views about Big Brother. That’s the only way to explain a new bill in that state, which would control what items poor people are allowed to put in their grocery carts. According to the memo attached to that legislation, state Senators Patty Ritchie and Michael Nozzolio disagree with current food stamp rules that “allow the purchase of junk food and luxury items like high-end steak and lobster.” But, that doesn’t explain why the senators would bar food stamp recipients from purchasing bottled water, ice or vegetable seeds for planting at home. The real reason for legislation like this is to demonize poor people and make life harder for anyone who dares to ask for a little help. If New York Republicans really care about making people eat healthier, they could help make healthy food affordable and accessible to everyone. And, they can help put an end to the junk food subsidies that make our nation so unhealthy.

And finally… No one should have to choose between going to work sick or paying their bills, but far too many Americans don’t get the paid sick leave they need to take the time off. Thankfully, after several food borne illness issues at their restaurants, Chipotle workers will now be able to stay home with pay when they’re not well. At a recent company-wide meeting of Chipotle workers, the company announced that all employees will be required to take five days off after all their symptoms are gone and they will even be paid for that time. Although some investors may complain about the cost of the program, it will certainly mean fewer illness outbreaks and less bad press for the popular restaurant chain. When workers can’t afford to take time off when they’re sick, they often have no choice but to come in and share their illness with co-workers and customers alike. You don’t have to be an expert to understand that it’s a bad idea for a sick person to handle your food, so we should all celebrate any restaurant that makes it possible for workers to stay home and get healthy.

And that’s the way it is – for the week of February 29, 2016 – I’m Thom Hartmann – on the Economic and Labor News.