‘The Real Looting in America Is the Walton Family’: GAO Report Details How Taxpayers Subsidize Cruel Low Wages of Corporate Giants

By Jon Queally, staff writer, Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

Pinpointing a reality denounced as “morally obscene” by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a new government study shows how some of the nation’s largest and most profitable corporations—including Walmart, McDonald’s, Dollar General, and Amazon—feast upon taxpayer money by paying their employees such low wages that huge numbers of those workers throughout the year are forced to rely on public assistance programs such as Medicaid and food assistance just to keep themselves and their families afloat.

According to a statement from Sanders’ office, the study he commissioned the Government Accountability Office to carry out—titled Millions of Full-time Workers Rely on Federal Health Care and Food Assistance Programs—found that an estimated 5.7 million Medicaid enrollees and 4.7 million SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients who worked full-time for 50 or more weeks in 2018 earned wages so low that they qualified for these federal benefits. In addition, an estimated 12 million wage-earning adults enrolled in Medicaid and 9 million wage-earning adults living in households receiving SNAP benefits worked at some point in 2018.

Upon the study’s release Wednesday, Warren Gunnels, staff director and policy adviser for Sen. Sanders, tweeted: “The real looting in America is the Walton family becoming $63 billion richer during a pandemic, while paying wages so low that 14,541 of their workers in 9 states need food stamps—all subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. Yes. The Walton family is the real welfare queen in America.”

According to the Washington Post:, based on the GAO report:

Walmart was one of the top four employers of SNAP and Medicaid beneficiaries in every state. McDonald’s was in the top five of employers with employees receiving federal benefits in at least nine states.

In the nine states that responded about SNAP benefits—Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington—Walmart was found to have employed about 14,500 workers receiving the benefit, followed by McDonald’s with 8,780, according to Sanders’s team. In six states that reported Medicaid enrollees, Walmart again topped the list, with 10,350 employees, followed by McDonald’s with 4,600.

In Georgia, for example, Walmart employed an estimated 3,959 workers on Medicaid—an estimated 2.1 percent of the total of non-elderly, non-disabled people in the state receiving the benefit. McDonald’s was next on the list, employing 1,480 who received Medicaid, or 0.8 percent of the total of non-elderly, non-disabled people on the program.

“At a time when huge corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s are making billions in profits and giving their CEOs tens of millions of dollars a year, they’re relying on corporate welfare from the federal government by paying their workers starvation wages,” said Sanders in a statement. “That is morally obscene.”

With the individual wealth of high-ranking executives and members of billionaire families like the Walton’s, who own Walmart, soaring even as front-line, minimum wage employees and their families struggling to stay afloat amid the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, Sanders argues that the stark contrast should be a wakeup call for those who have refused to see how unjust and economically backward it is for the federal government, meaning taxpayers, to subsidize the cruel wages that massive profitable companies force their workers to accept.

“U.S. taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America,” said Sanders. “It is time for the owners of Walmart, McDonald’s and other large corporations to get off of welfare and pay their workers a living wage.”

No one in this country should live in poverty,” Sanders added. “No one should go hungry. No one should be unable to get the medical care they need. It is long past time to increase the federal minimum wage from a starvation wage of $7.25 an hour to $15, and guarantee health care to all Americans as a human right.”

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49 comments

  1. fwe'theewell

    These looters at the top don’t just rely on welfare for their workers: they also rely on government assistance in other ways, such as favorable tax treatment and other goodies to bring their boondoggles to town, and of course trillions in infusions/ giveaways like we saw this year. Not to mention golden parachutes in corporate bankruptcies, facilitated by the “way things are done.”

    Reply
    1. AGKaiser

      don’t forget: Walmart and others also profit by the food stamps spent in their grocery and Medicaid in their pharmacy.

      Reply
  2. nycTerrierist

    more galling, if that’s possible, Alice Walton postures as a ‘philanthropist’

    artwashing ill-gotten gains as the benefactress of lavish vanity museum Crystal Bridges:

    https://thebaffler.com/salvos/hoard-doeuvres

    ““There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism,” wrote Walter Benjamin. In precisely this vein, Walton’s new Crystal Bridges museum offers American-made art to strategically cover up the ugly reality Walmart has created. Spanning the colonial era to the present, the exhibition space’s fulsome celebration of the American spirit eulogizes the nation of shared confidence and abundance, sustainable mortgages, and worker dignity that Walmart has brutally demolished. The notion that Walton’s supremely self-satisfied kunsthalle might serve as a balm, let alone a monument, to the market-battered American spirit is analogous to, say, Genghis Khan inviting survivors of his Mongol hordes to admire an installation of his plunder…”

    Reply
  3. Louis Fyne

    please don’t forget Bezos…even though he owns the WaPo

    Same tactics. But I guess it’s social acceptable to poo on the Waltons and Wal-Mart, but let us sweep Whole Foods and Amazon Prime under the rug

    Reply
      1. Louis Fyne

        As Amazon uses a network of subcontractors and contractors for everything for logistics to making toilet paper, all those employees will never show up on “official” stats re. Amazon.

        it’s called Lying with Statistics.
        ymmv.

        Reply
      1. mileyvirus

        I agree, I did not interpret that as a straw man. Amazon is just as damnable as Walmart in terms of corporate welfare/employee wages

        Reply
        1. TimH

          I called it a straw man because “…but let us sweep Whole Foods and Amazon Prime under the rug” suggested that the piece had done that, when they weren’t mentioned.

          Reply
          1. Basil Pesto

            I believe that is what ‘sweeping under the rug’ entails.

            (I get your point, and am actually
            pretty sympathetic to it. couldn’t resist the snark tho.)

            Reply
  4. Objective Ace

    An equally accurate storyline could be–“Workers in at least 9 states would be forced to live off even more government handouts without Walmart’s employment”.

    Its tough to give companies grief here simply for paying what the market dictates. I’m all for going after the route of the problem–monopsony power–but noting the symptoms without actually raising awareness of the underlying problem is a distraction that keeps the plebs anger directed where it can’t have much effect on the bigger picture. Being mad at Walmart instead of the government policy that has destroyed unions and made it easier/cheaper to move jobs overseas isn’t serving middle America. Ironically, this distraction serves Walmart quite well. They actually champion hire minimum wages as it stifles competition

    Its an interesting thought experiment to imagine absolutely no minimum wages but a UBI and universal healthcare so that no one needed a job just to survive. Then Walmart could pay its employees any low amount and no one would bat an eye (although I suspect wages actually wouldnt fall because walmart would lose its monopsony power)

    Reply
    1. fwe'theewell

      Government policy doesn’t write itself: lobbyists guide the pen, and donors/ owners like Walmart pull the guides’ puppet strings. “Personal responsibility” goes both ways.

      To use yesterday’s metaphor, I’d say that the PMC is like the human being co-driver in a “self”-driving car programmed by capital.

      Reply
      1. Objective Ace

        Definitely. And focusing on those issues (which are the actual issues) is better than focusing on the symptoms

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Though if we can get people to admit they feel the symptoms by describing the symptoms, some of those people might then be ready and willing to hear about the disease which is giving them the symptoms.

          Reply
    2. bulfinch

      Tempting as it might be to shape the narrative so that the Walmarts of the World appear more like hapless innovators, shrewdly capitalizing on a crooked playing field, it only works if you blinker yourself to the fact that the WotW have at least 8 of the ten fingers on the hands architecting those same playing fields.

      Reply
      1. Objective Ace

        Don’t get me wrong–I’m not trying to say Walmart is hapless. Maybe I’m too cynical, but I actually think they’re so shrewd they want you to focus on these press releases about how they pay so little. If the only thing that stems from that is increasing the minimum wage, they come out big time winners

        Reply
    3. drumlin woodchuckles

      Here’s what the market dictates. ” I can get 10 interns who will pay ME to LET them do your job. Now shut up and get back to work.” The way to stop the Market Dictatorship of what wages will be is to impose a Legal Dictatorship on the market of what wages will be.

      That’s what the Wages and Hours Act was about to begin with. Make it a long-sentence hard-time felony to pay less or to take less. Abolish Free Trade in goods , services or people. That means Sealing the Borders to create zero immigration for as long as necessary to use the labor shortage to torture the employER class into raising wages and conditions upward. And to weld shut the “illegal immigration escape hatch” by which employERS ( including limousine liberals) pay less than the legally imposed minimum wage.

      Reply
    4. BlakeFelix

      Ya, I agree. Providing health care and making sure kids have food and education are subsidies that help businesses in a healthy way. And a UBI is a great idea as well! Toss in a Carbon tax, and you have my ideal policy.

      Reply
    5. Carolinian

      We’ve had this debate here for years so the above article is a bit of a recycled chestnut rather than an original thought.

      And perhaps the answer for the “outrage” of those Walmart heirs is to reestablishment a meaningful inheritance tax since receiving billions through death is indeed an entitlement and not just for the Walmart heirs but also for plenty of mansion owners dotting the Northeast.

      As for the company itself, yes it’s a crappy and low paid place to work but they are hardly unique in that and one reason they top those mentioned lists, along with McDonalds, is that they are the number one and number two employers by number of employees in the country. And the reason they are so large is that they give their custormers what they want and can afford which cannot be said of so many competing looters that the author ignores.

      There are lots of worse companies than Walmart but in the battle of the coastals versus the deplorables they have always made a fat juicy target for those who probably pay their hired help less than Walmart does its “associates.”

      Reply
    1. LC

      Right!?
      I keep thinking about how at 15/hour people will lose what small piece of our social safety net that keeps them “making it”. No family is purchasing health insurance on that increase. And really the few dollars per hour might not even make up the food benefits for a medium sized family. It’s scary to get a raise where you end up worse off then before.
      I mean I guess that’s just the messed up reality when a whole bunch of household costs have been introduced or increased since policies using means testing (income and asset thresholds) to determine access. Actually I am sure ok not sure but it would make sense that these companies know exactly how much pay will kick these employees off benefits. So the employee community is less likely to make a fuss for small increases in pay which is the norm we have come to accept as workers. I’m all for real talk minimum/ living wages for the communities people actually live in.

      Reply
  5. Chauncey Gardiner

    “Corporate welfare queens”… As others have noted, it isn’t just Walmart and the Waltons. Trying to think of an appropriate term to describe the outcome of the decision by a majority of the US Supreme Court justices in the Citizens United case that not only enabled but tacitly encouraged One Percent, corporate, Wall Street, executive branch, legislators’ and central bank behavior that, although still a cycle, has led to the opposite of a “virtuous cycle”. “Morally obscene”, corrupt and corruptible, and dishonorable are some descriptions of resultant behavior that come to mind. Too bad “The Swamp” wasn’t drained, but has been further expanded and left both legacy political parties tarnished. It is said that a fish rots from the head down. That may be so, but that doesn’t mean the rot cannot be allowed to set in. Follow the Money.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      It turns out that when the TrumpAdmin used the phrase ” the Swamp”, what they strictly specifically and only meant were the impartial scientists at the various departments , bureaus and agencies. And they have done all they could to drain out the impartial scientists and stop the science. Which is all they ever meant by “drain the Swamp”.

      Reply
    2. howseth

      Citizens United decision was a display of right wing insanity in all it’s glory: I suppose insanity was either baked into the Constitution – or in 1780 – was not yet insanity?
      Still can’t get over that decision – ever since, my thought: term limits for friggen federal judges – and certainly the SCOTUS crew… and throw in Congress and the Senate as well.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        We have term limits for state officeholders in Michigan. All that mostly gets us is cynical amateurs who view their limited term as a chance to make contacts and audition for lobbying/law/etc. jobs after leaving office.

        And the non-cynical amateurs who want to make things better are term-limited out of office just when they are finally learning where all the hidden levers, ropes, pulleys, secret trap doors are. Meanwhile, the lobbyists are not term limited.

        Term limits for national office would make some things worse while making nothing better.

        Reply
        1. howseth

          Ah, those immortal lobbyists! Term limits for politicians – combined with limits on lobbyists. One can dream. No? I’d like to try it. How can we actually drain the Swamp/
          Oh. Crap. We have a Supreme Court. Freedom to Lobby infinitely. Freedom of bribery – I mean freedom of speech.
          OK, So nothing can be done. Perhaps state office holders are a different thing then National politicians? (Yeah, maybe not)… But… Do you want to remove the term limits on our President then? No? I’d keep that limit.
          Should we just resign ourselves to be stuck with this stuff till the Sun expands and swallows the USA? The future colony on Mars will have a better way? Not likely.

          Reply
      2. Carla

        We have term limits. They’re called elections. If/when there’s something wrong with Democracy, fix Democracy. If/when there’s something wrong with the Constitution, fix the Constitution

        In most cases, artificial term limits don’t do either. I would say there are two exceptions: limiting the presidency to two terms, and limiting the tenure of federal judges. In the latter case, 18-year term limits have been suggested, and that could be the right number, I’m not sure.

        Now, with respect to fixing Democracy and the Constitution, for a First Step, please see HJR-48: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing that the rights extended by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only — oh, by the way, stating that money does not equal speech.

        https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-joint-resolution/48/text

        Reply
  6. drumlin woodchuckles

    Every looting is real looting. Little looters in the streets are real looters. Big looters in the suites are real looters.

    Since the big looting is currently legal in many cases, laws would have to be changed to stop the big looters looting. Its worth trying to do. It won’t happen with Joemala and McConnell conspiring together to stop it from happening.

    We need to elect a Red Gingrich minority of officeholders into the House and into the Senate. The “squad” could be the nucleus of that if they decide to center economic justice instead of critical race wokeness.

    Burn down the House. And the Senate too.

    Reply
  7. Watt4Bob

    If China didn’t have the Waltons, they would have found another family glad to help them destroy our small retailers.

    Our government gave tax breaks to corporations moving manufacturing to China, and to Walmart, and others peddling what used to be made here.

    And now, to add insult to injury, they’re telling you to “Learn to code” because the problem is, you don’t have any employable skills.

    Reply
    1. polecat

      Congrease had/has the legal power to enact legislation with which to reign in what has become the early 21st century gilded age .. but they refuse to .. Nearly ALL of them have their dirty proboscii harpooning the lowly constituents who elected them ..too busy sucking any and all of plebian bodilyeconomic liquidity whilst paying deference to the know-it-all, BigTime-parasitic Oligarchic Brainbugs!

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Abolish Free Trade and we could dry up the tidal wave of cheapest things which floats Walmart’s boat to wealth and power.

        Reply
          1. drumlin woodchuckles

            If Biden does that, then Trump himself could very well win again if he runs in 2024. If that scenario plays out that way, I hope Trump picks Ivanka to be his VP running mate. That way, Ivanka would be on track to be America’s first woman president. I just hope Hillary would live long enough to see that happen.

            Reply
  8. PeasantParty

    I used to dread the Friday news drops. The unemployment numbers, employed people in minimum wage jobs, workers at home working away, and major inflation in the grocery stores are hitting people extremely hard coming up to Holiday season. I really can’t wait to see the Friday news drops now. Not just the Trump temper tantrum stuff, but the economic quips they make. Then what is totally mind blowing are the comments on social media. Some people that are not hurting much, or at all seem to think that all things are fine as wine in the rest of the country. I know this reply does not specifically comment on your article, but it is a wide view of the current situation.

    Reply
  9. Shiloh1

    Walmart and Bezos are the symptoms of two generations of Congressional criminality.

    Exhibit A: “I say to the Walton Family..,”

    Reply
  10. cynical observer

    With the computers and big data, the simplest solution is to claw back the benefits paid to the employees from the corporations, call it humanitarian tax.

    But, it would be hard to find a lobbyist to write it, even harder to find a sponsor in the congress.

    Reply
    1. edmondo

      That would destroy the ability of these people to get jobs and to receive benefits.

      I think you might have the cause and effect mixed up. In my state, anyone who gets SNAP benefits has to work at least 20 hours a week. These “bad” employers are the ones with flexible schedules and because the jobs are so crappy, they are readily available. Maybe it’s not that WalMartb workers need benefits, it’s that the benefits recipient needs WalMart and McDonalds.

      Reply
      1. sharonsj

        Every state is different. I just have to show proof of income (which I have, though I don’t have a job). But the amount of SNAP you get varies widely. I am 150% of poverty level and the state of Pennsylvania just raised my monthly benefit to $16.50.

        Reply
  11. Ook

    Another way to put it: Walmart, McDonald’s, Dollar General, and Amazon are really government stores with outsourced management and labor.
    Socialism American-style.

    Reply
    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Maybe Facebook and Google could merge with Walmart and Amazon. They could call it FaceGoogle Walmazon.

      And then in honor of the Soviet Socialist era store known as GUM, they could rename their Soviet Corporate creation FaceGoogle WalGUMazon.

      Reply
  12. sharonsj

    Whenever I am in Walmart or any supermarket with automatic check out, I avoid automatic check out completely and only go to regular check out, no matter how long the line is. Automatic check out is a precursor to eventually firing all human cashiers. In my “larger” town, where I often end up in Walmart for the cheaper pet food, an Aldi’s was built precisely opposite it, across the road. I heard an Aldi’s employee saying they get paid better than Walmart. And lots of their prices are the same or better. So I will be spending a lot more time there.

    Reply
  13. Elaine Williams

    This is not new news. We are too used to Walmart’s superlow prices to do anything about it. This will continue long after I’m gone.

    Reply

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