According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office, commissioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), about 70 percent of adult wage-earners enrolled in Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a. SNAP or food stamps) work full-time — at least 35 hours per week — on a weekly basis. Yet their wages are still below the $36,156 threshold for a household to qualify for Medicaid.
This is no new revelation — other studies have found a similar large percentage of federal benefit recipients are in working families. But thanks to the GAO, we have a better sense of who’s paying these terrible wages: America’s biggest companies. The GAO looked at state-level numbers for employers of those on Medicaid and SNAP. In every state that furnished data, Walmart was one of the top four employers of Medicaid and food-stamp recipients. Yes, Walmart — the same company that reported $5.1 billion in profit last quarter alone and paid its top six executives $112 million last year — relies on U.S. taxpayers to keep its thousands of workers from starving.
Walmart isn’t alone: McDonald’s — which last year paid its fired chief executive a severance package worth an estimated $41 million — was the second-largest employer of SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries. Other companies employing thousands of workers on federal benefits include Burger King, Dollar Tree, Dollar General and, yes, Amazon, whose chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.
Part of the solution is to make corporations pay their fair share in taxes. It’s ridiculous that a company such as Walmart that taxpayers subsidize with billions of federal benefits can simultaneously avoid an estimated $1 billion in taxes. But the other part of the solution is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, indexed to inflation. Contrary to right-wing falsehoods that doing so would “kill jobs,” a $15 minimum wage would benefit more than 30 million people, stimulate consumer spending, reduce turnover, decrease inequality and grow the economy. Millions of hard-working Americans would be rescued from a hellish lifestyle in which not even a full-time job is enough to support themselves.
As the vote in Florida shows, a national minimum wage hike is also popular. Nationally, two-thirds of voters support a $15 minimum wage. And Florida is just the latest red-leaning state to raise its minimum wage. Two years ago, Arkansans voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $11 by 2021, while Missouri voters did the same to raise their state’s to $12 by 2023. Neither figure is as high as Democrats might like, but both successes are signs that voters are ahead of the GOP.
While Democrats have more or less come around to a $15 minimum wage, where the Sanders wing of the party has been for years, it hasn’t been a top issue. House Democrats took six months last Congress to pass such a bill. But it’s the perfect type of kitchen-table issue for the party to emphasize in the Georgia Senate runoff. In a state where the minimum wage is a measly $5.15 per hour (though most workers are covered by the federal minimum wage), one-third of Georgians make less $12 per hour, almost half make less than $15 an hour and a majority of voters back a $15 minimum wage. Campaigning on a higher minimum wage would give more voters a tangible reason to replicate or even improve the turnout that powered President-elect Joe Biden’s win on Election Day. And it would highlight that Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) made $50 million as head of Dollar General, even as the company faced multiple class-action lawsuits alleging wage-theft.
Whatever happens in Georgia, though, Democrats should prioritize both a higher minimum wage and making corporations pay their fair share. Both are good policy and good politics. For any party, it shouldn’t get much easier than that.