Something incredibly shameful is going on in America right now, and this video from a senate hearing a few days ago sums it up pretty well. I want to highlight some of the points that Senator Sanders makes about income inequality in America and the death of the middle class:
- The top 1% of Americans own nearly 40% of wealth in this country. The bottom 60% of Americans own less than 5% of wealth
- ONE family owns more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans
- The largest private employer in the US today, Wal-Mart, pays its employees on average 8.80 USD per hour. In 1955, the largest private employer in the US, General Motors, paid its employees on average 37 USD per hour (when adjusted for inflation today).
Major retailers and employers, like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s and Burger King, pay such low wages that a large portion of their employees must enroll in federal and state poverty reduction programs, such as food stamps (SNAP), subsidized housing and medicaid in order to survive. But these companies continue to post record profits each quarter and pay their executives MILLIONS of dollars per year plus bonuses, and pay out huge dividends to their investors.
“Supporters” of these companies say that low wages 1) keep prices low and 2) enable them to hire more employees, which “helps” American families. These arguments are complete bull (BS) because in reality, these companies use low wages to maximize their own profits and ensure a market for their products. People earning these wages from these companies must then shop at these locations because it is the only place that they can afford.
On a global scale, these companies continue these disgusting and destructive practices in countries around the world. They pay pitiful wages to women and children in sweat shops in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, etc. They pollute the groundwater in these countries which cause rising rates of cancer, birth defects and deformities. When faced with opposition either in the US or somewhere, the executives either blame their suppliers, saying that they can’t possibly know what is going on OR they defend the practices in order to keep our prices low. The company washes its hands of the problems, saying its either the fault of the suppliers, the local government for not having controls, or American consumers for demanding low prices.
Let me re-iterate: These companies continue to post record profits each year and pay their executives and investors millions of dollars per year. They have cash and lots of it. It is not a lack of cash or an inability to afford higher wages. They do not want to pay a higher minimum wage due to GREED, pure and simple. Maybe they should limit executive pay or dividend profits and push the money back to their other employees who also work for the success of the company? What a radical thought.
As we “debate” raising the minimum wage to a living wage, I invite everyone to consider what’s right and moral, especially as Christians and as the Church? Is it right that a mother and father work 35-39 hours a week each but still need food stamps? Is it right that Wal-Mart won’t let them work 40 hours a week because then they would be full time employees and entitled to benefits? And is it right that the CEO of Wal-Mart earned 17.6 million USD in total compensation in 2012 but the average employee earned 22,100 USD??
I don’t think that ANY of this is right, and I definitely do not believe that Jesus would argue that ANY of this is right or moral. I also think that it’s time for it to end. We need to stop giving Fortune 500 companies a free pass to destroy our society and our world and recognize that greed motivates them not a desire to “do right” by their consumers.
**I picked Wal-Mart because it is the largest private employer in the US today, but every major company and retailer is guilty of these practices. Here’s an interactive chart that I found about CEO pay. Final thought about the chart: Notice is it almost exclusively White men….**