This Wednesday will bring a nationwide wave of strikes and protests by low-wage workers and their supporters, calling for higher pay. For some context on why, consider this: you, the taxpayer, are already subsidizing these workers to the tune of billions of dollars.
A new study out of the University of California attempts to quantify the extent to which low-wage employees of major corporations end up having their basic living expenses paid by the public, due to the fact that the profitable major corporations that employ them pay them so very little. (This is a fairly regular exercise by some economist or other, and always enlightening.) These are working Americans. No one can argue that they are lazy. Also, for many of them, their employers are some of the world's biggest and most valuable public companies. Walmart. McDonald's. Target. These are not a class of workers exclusively employed by mom and pop operations. With those two things in mind, chew on this: the researchers found that the total cost of public aid to poor working families from the federal government and state governments is $153 billion per year.
That is to say that we, the taxpayers, are paying $153 billion per year to supplement the very low wages paid to our fellow working Americans by many large, profitable corporations. That is an amount roughly equal to the entire annual budget of the US Department of Agriculture.
It is one thing to say, "Fast food workers don't deserve $15 per hour." But realize that what you are saying really amounts to, "I prefer to pay the difference between what fast food workers earn and what they need to live myself, rather than making their employers pay it." Framed that way, some Americans might start thinking about this wage issue a bit differently.
[If you're in a mood for progressive labor reports today, here's one analyzing the portion of the work force that makes less than $15 per hour, and here's one analyzing how hedge fund titans profit from low fast food wages. Photo: AP]