When did it become commonplace in this country to blame the “little guy”? The phenomenon exploded during the 2012 election where “47%” of Americans were labeled as lazy, entitled, looking for a handout, and unwilling to take personal responsibility for their financial situation. Republicans even rallied to the defense of Mittens, citing a rise in US poverty and an increase in the number of Americans forced into some form of assistance. Newt Gingrich referred to Barack Obama as the “food stamp President” and even if you want to deny the racial undertone of the statement, it certainly seems to blame the current administration for the rise in poverty and does nothing to address the reasons WHY.
The big programs are well-known. In 2011, Social Security had 49.6 million recipients and Medicare 45.6 million, most of them overlapping. There were 5.2 million Americans with unemployment compensation and 3.2 million with veterans’ benefits. An estimated 107.2 million people received “means-tested” benefits available to those with low incomes. Medicaid had 80.5 million beneficiaries, food stamps 48.3 million and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) 23.1 million. Among households with means-tested benefits, almost a third received three or more.
So… Half of the country are deadbeats?
Hostess was forced to go out of business in the wake of crippling debt by vulture capitalists who came in, raided the company, poached the employee pension (only about 160 million dollars), and on the way out had the stones to give the executives massive raises and bonuses that are to be paid out even as the doors to the factories are being locked. Now, some conservatives and anti-union advocates would have you believe that it was because the 18,000 Hostess union workers were unbending and were making outrageous demands. The reality of the situation is this: Hostess workers did not ask for a raise. They did not ask for a bonus. They did not ask for more hours. They did not ask for their pensions to be fixed. They asked for NOTHING new – They just wanted to keep doing their jobs. Surprisingly they DID have a problem with being asked to take an 8% pay cut (Which represented around $2,000 a year for most workers) and a 17% cut in benefits/pension while the executives were raiding their pension and packing their golden parachutes.
Have you wondered what a country where a “businessman” like Mitt Romney was in charge would look like? Look at Hostess, and what happened to them. Guess what Mitt did for a living? Yeah, exactly the same thing. You don’t have to be a fan of unions to know that it is still pretty shitty to put 18,000 people out of work a month before Christmas. Hey, I am pulling for those executives to get the 1.75 million in bonuses that they earned, though.
Clearly, it’s the workers fault, right?
Wal-Mart looks like it will finally feel some backlash for its attitude towards workers. For years, Wal-Mart has been the poster-child for a big corporation that treats its millions of employees like garbage. Below-average wages, little room for advancement (especially for women and minorities), a lack of benefits, minuscule raises (an average Wal-Mart “associate” who starts out at $8.50 an hour is expected to make around $10.75 an hour… 6 years later) The company actually represents 1% of the ENTIRE workforce in America: One out of every 100 people who collects a paycheck in this country do it at a Wal-Mart. The 6 members of the Walton family are worth a combined 89 billion (with a “B”) dollars – Or in simpler terms: These 6 people are worth more than 40% of the entire COUNTRY. Remind me again about how the “job creators” are suffering?
Employees are finally reaching a tipping point at Wally World. Corporate profit margins are at an all-time high, and wages as a percent of GDP are at an all-time low, so the corporations can certainly afford this. Wal-Mart generated about 15 billion dollars in profit last year alone. Here’s the sick thing: Wal-Mart could afford to give every full time associate a $5,000 a year raise and it would only cost them about $4 billion in actual revenue. In reality, it would cost them even less. If you are poor and you actually have disposable income, where do you generally go to spend it?
Oh yeah… Wal-Mart. Given that poor and low-income people spend just about everything they make, the raise would also act as a stimulus for the economy. In fact, it might even act as a stimulus for Walmart. Many Walmart associates would probably thank the company for the raise by turning around and spending the raise at Walmart. And that might help boost Walmart’s anemic sales growth. Workers are asking for an average wage of around $13 an hour with access to affordable health care. A typical full time employee makes around 22,000 a year – Below the poverty line for a family of four, according to CNN.
It strikes me as odd that for conservatives who are so against government assistance would be so against corporations being forced to pay a fair wage. Most of Wal-Mart’s full-time employees are forced to supplement their income with some form of assistance. Medicaid, TANF, food stamps, etc. So what if employees are forced to work horrid hours for little pay – We need our cheap goods imported from China because dammit that is the American Way! The talk this year is for more and more retail chains to open on Thanksgiving Night. For many retail and service industry people Thanksgiving and Christmas represent the only days off that they get, and it is the only chance that many of these workers get to spend with extended family all year. So what can the associates do? The threat of being fired for calling off right before the holidays is staggering, especially for a person living in relative poverty right before the Holidays. So what happens? Employees show up for work sick, and get other people sick. These employees don’t have healthcare, because they work at companies that don’t offer it and pay them in such a manner that there would be no way for them to afford medical care on their own. It’s starting to sound a bit like slavery, huh?
So what can we do? First and foremost, support your local Wal-Mart workers. Social media is a HUGE part of the success of the Black Friday Resistance – Let them know that you think they should be given a fair wage and benefits. Above everything else, don’t shop at Wal-Mart. More importantly, let Wal-Mart know WHY you are not shopping there. I know it’s attractive to save .04 on a can of green beans but seriously – It’s not worth it. BUY AMERICAN! I know that is generally a charge of conservatives, but in this case we should all do that. Support local businesses (especially on Small Business Saturday) and for fuck’s sake, stop blaming the little guy.
We have to break this culture where if people aren’t making 6-figures they just don’t work hard enough. We have to stop blaming the people barely getting by and start fixing the problem that has put so many people in a place where they have little to no chance at upward mobility. That’s not what America is all about. This used to be called the “Land of Opportunity”, and it’s time that we remembered that everyone deserves that chance.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
–Sean Kemmerer is a freelance writer, administrator of Politics Without The Crazy Pills, and is deceptively agile for a big man .