Mitt Romney thinks 47% of us are lazy and dependent on the government. I guess he hasn’t looked in the mirror.
A new study from the rightist Cato Institute estimates that the Federal Government will spend almost $100 billion on corporate welfare this year. The sources of private sector subsidies cross most departments – Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, among others. And the study does not take into account corporate hand-outs by state and local governments.
Some of this corporate welfare is obvious and out-in-the-open: without the military, of course, there would be no defense contractors. Many large financial institutions would no longer be with us with the big bank bail-out known as TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which essentially rewarded banks and investment firms for bad decisions. General Motors would be gone too without government help. Most sports stadiums would not exist without taxpayer support for their developers.
But these are all direct subsidies. An even larger source of indirect corporate welfare, however, comes from government supplementing inadequate wages.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. It has not risen since 2009. Indeed, during the Great Recession, many workers’ wages have descended towards the minimum level. For the poorest Americans, the United States economy is now a low wage economy, much like that of a developing country.
An hourly wage of $7.25 translates into approximately $14,500 a year, working full time. Many service workers are not permitted by their employers to work full time. Yet, even if a minimum wage worker manages to do so, $14,500 will not cover the costs of full time living: food, shelter, utilities, transportation, health care, etc. Thus the government essentially provides low wage employers with “Wage Relief.”
The list goes on.
Romney wants to blame the worker. I want to blame Wal-Mart, literally and metaphorically. This is how businesses like Wal-Mart “compete” in the “free market economy,” by passing their wage and benefit costs on to “government,” namely to us.
If the minimum wage were raised to, say, $20 an hour, the Wal-Mart worker would not need government “help.” Sure, the price of a pair of jeans would go up, but (A) we could afford it and (B) small retailers could actually compete, expanding local economies. Instead, the Wal-Marts of the world put small firms out of business, and we pay for them to do so.
Increasingly, we live in a two-tier society: Wall Street titans, with their pornographically high salaries, on the one hand; “Wal-Mart workers,” with their shamefully low wages, on the other.
This situation is both unconscionable and untenable.
Perhaps we have to look backward in order to move forward.
I will let one of our greatest Presidents speak for himself – FDR, State of the Union Address, 1944:
“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
Larry Fondation is a fiction writer, journalist and community organizer in Los Angeles. He is the author of Angry Nights, Common Criminals, Fish, Soap and Bonds and Unintended Consequences