In a move that could alter the minimum wage debate and improve the image of the world’s largest retailer, Walmart announced it will raise the baseline wage of its current store employees to $10 per hour, bringing pay hikes to an estimated 500,000 workers.
The company said in an announcement on Thursday that it would raise its wage floor to $9 in April, followed by a second boost to $10 by next February.
Now I do not want to berate them for giving their employees a wage increase. That is a good thing and better than nothing, I guess.
But I do want to make a few observations:
1) A dollar or two more per hour spread out over two years is nothing but a drop in the bucket and is not likely going to change the situation of people in Wal-mart’s employ all that much, if at all.
2) Compared to the obscene wealth Walmart and the Walton family have (the six Waltons have a net worth of $144.7 billion. This fiscal year three Waltons—Rob, Jim, and Alice (and the various entities that they control)—will receive an estimated $3.1 billion in Walmart dividends from their majority stake in the company), giving their employees a mere dollar or two an hour more in wages is not only a drop in the bucket but, quite frankly, insulting. It reeks of the kind of greed communists have not only predicted but almost caricatured since the beginning of the industrial revolution and the emergence of capitalism. The greed here is unfathomable.
3) What Walmart is doing here is voluntary. They are not obliged, per federal minimum wage laws, to give their employees more than $7.25 an hour. People are all beside themselves over the “generosity” of Walmart and celebrate this as some kind of a victory for workers.
There is a whole lot wrong with this, not the least of which is that 10 dollars an hour is not a livable wage. It amounts to not more than $18,720 a year before taxes. After the tax collector is done with you, that amount is most likely reduced by another 40%. No one can live on this.
But the bigger issue here is that people waiting to be paid a livable wage for a days’ work shouldn’t be dependent on the largesse and generosity of their employers voluntarily giving them wage increases. In other words, it should not be up to an employer’s discretion to not only treat their employees well but to also give them wage increases. Because a lot of them will be waiting forever.
That is why we need regulation in the form of laws that guarantee a realistic livable wage, limiting executive income to a reasonable multiplier of that wage, so that if executives want to make more, they need to give their employees more, too.
4) All this brings me to my next point, which I cannot emphasize enough: $10 an hour is not a livable wage.
Heck not even $15 an hour is.
Making $28,880 per year (which is what someone getting paid $15 an hour would be making) is not a livable wage. After taxes, not much remains. People in such a situation, which is already considered the gold standard (the $15 an hour minimum wage) won’t be given healthcare benefits or will not be able to afford quality health care with low deductibles and co-pays.
Many of them will not qualify for government subsidies as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as the poverty levels are set so low that most people do not qualify and many of these people won’t earn enough money to feed themselves, much less a family, and many of them won’t be able to save as much as they’ll need for their retirement, if they can save anything at all.
People who honorably dedicate their time, energy, and talents to jobs that might not traditionally pay well because some capitalist pig decided it is worth less, are indeed entitled to something though. They are entitled to not work their whole lives only to find themselves poverty-stricken, or hungry, or homeless after one small (or not small) financial crisis. And if we’re not going to ensure that every job comes with a livable wage, access to affordable healthcare, and retirement benefits, then we’ve got to provide a robust and well-funded social safety net.
None of which we have these days. The money you get deducted each pay-check for social security may as well be torched and dumped into a landfill, because you most likely will not see much of it. It is just money the government collects from everyone each month that lands into a pool of money that Congress regularly steals from (i.e. borrows against) and then when it is time to pay-back, they talk about cutting social security altogether.
So we do not even have a social safety net.
Unemployment benefits run out after a year or two max and most people do not qualify for welfare and foodstamps because the bar for qualifying for such benefits has been set so low, that no one but people pushing shopping carts, qualify.
I know someone in their 60s making $800 dollars a month and they were denied food-stamp benefits because they allegedly make too much money. And that is in California. An ostensibly liberal state.
5) Finally, and most importantly: wage increases are meaningless if they are not accompanied by tax reform in the form of reducing the taxes on the poor and middle class while closing the loopholes and increasing the taxes on the wealthy.
Imagine if you could keep 85% of the money you make each month, instead of having relinquish nearly 40% of it to the Federal government. Imagine how much better off you would be. I know I would be able to pay off my student loan debt and increase my standard of living by manifold.
But the reality is that the majority of us do not get to keep that money. We have to give it to the government, while someone making 100 to 1000 or even 10,000 times or more than we do gets to keep all their money, accumulating wealth fast and easy while free-riding on the taxes we all pay for them. This is wealth redistribution bottom to top, make no mistake about it. The middle class has been and continues to underwrite the success of the wealthy.
That is why minimum wage increases alone are meaningless if they do not go hand in hand with tax reforms. Because even if we were to push for higher minimum wages, people end up just paying more of that in taxes, which then effectively nullifies the whole reason why wages needed to be increased in the first place. The only one benefiting from wage increases is the government.
Hard work and making more money won’t do you any good if you are crippled by high taxes. At least in Europe the higher taxes people pay go back to them in social programs and a robust social safety net. Here, the poor and middle class are taxed into oblivion and when push comes to shove, they don’t see any of it come back to them in form of healthy, meaningful and robust social programs.
Right now, thanks to our current tax system that has been designed to benefit the very wealthy, corporations and wealthy individuals have managed to exploit loopholes to such an extent that has allowed them to keep the trillions of tax dollars we ought to be collecting from them, as profit. That is how they keep getting richer and why you and I, are not. Trickle down my ass.
The idea behind trickle down was that by giving the wealthy and big earners and corporations tax breaks, thus lessening the burden on them, you create the kind of environment that creates jobs and allows the wealth to trickle down to the lower ranks. The idea was that your employer will pass to tax savings it got on to you in the form of benefits and great wages.
That is one huge lie. And it never happened, given the decline of the middle class ever since trickle down was being sold to the American public.
In fact, trickle down is one of the biggest lies ever told and it does not work. It is a myth.
Corporations and the wealthy do not pass on the savings they get in taxes to their employees and workers. Instead they hide all those monies in off-shore accounts and pocket them. There is a reason Romney did not want to publish his tax returns and can afford gold plated car elevators in one of his mansions.