It seems to be a commonality among certain poor people who qualify for low-income housing, i.e., Section 8 or HUD, that in order to get into subsidized housing, they will choose not to work harder, but rather stay a dependent on the state and just work the minimum required. The idea is, if they can get rent-controlled housing in a particular area known for its relatively high-priced rentals compared to their incomes, why work harder? It’s a situation that frustrates conservatives who want to eradicate dependency and disappoints liberals who often have compassion for low-income earners, because such housing isn’t supposed to be a permanent way of life, but a safety net.
Breaking this mentality is difficult, to say the least, so when some of those low-income, often low-skilled workers strive to work regular 40-hour work weeks at large, big-name retailers such as Walmart, and those hours are cut and/or their benefits are scaled back to increase profits for corporate heads and shareholders, is it any wonder that those low-income earners have a complacent attitude about success and independence? And let’s be blatantly honest — for low-skilled workers, it’s not as if they have so many options that they can just move from job to job, expecting it will lead them out of poverty. For those who are unable to obtain an education, it’s a vicious cycle.
Along with low pay and a part-time business model to avoid providing benefits, some big retailers are finagling their way into providing even fewer employees with benefits as the Affordable Care Act comes to fruition and Medicaid expands throughout the U.S. So fewer hours and fewer people getting benefits, plus already low wages — this only spells disaster for taxpayers as more of these workers look to the government to bridge the gap for survival.
California legislators, however, have had enough.
Supported by unions, consumer groups and doctors, legislators are currently pushing a bill through the state legislature that would fine large retailers, such as Walmart, and other large companies, up to $6,000 per person, equivalent to 110 percent of the average cost of health insurance, for employees who are enrolled in Medi-Cal and work more than eight hours a week. About 250,000 people from bigger companies currently receive Medi-Cal — 44 percent of them work in retail or restaurants — and another 130,000 are expected to enroll with the implantation of the Affordable Care Act. Some have criticized the bill as a job killer, including Bill Dombrowski, chief executive of the California Retailers Association, who was reported as saying it was one of the worst job killer bills he’s seen in 20 years.
The one thing that Dombrowski seems to overlook is the cost to taxpayers and, well, flagrant greed. For instance, in recent years, Walmart has averaged about $15 billion in profits annually while its employees cost taxpayers $1.02 billion yearly in public health care benefits. Further, for those employees who are enrolled in its health care program, in 2012, Walmart rolled back health care coverage for part-time employees and raised premiums for full-time employees by as much as 63 percent for nonsmokers and their families and as much as 162 percent for smokers with families. For employees earning $8.81 per hour working an average of 34 hours per week, some of Walmart’s 2012 health care plans would cost between 77 percent and 104 percent of the employees’ annual gross incomes.
While we understand the repercussions of this legislation — the decreased profits for big retailers and other large employers and possible layoffs to preserve those profits — it’s time for big companies to stop passing the buck and take some responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of people they employ. The trickle-down theory has proven to be a complete failure, taking profits hand-over-fist while employees depend on taxpayers. We support this legislation and the movement that calls for companies such as Walmart to change its business model from codependency on taxpayers to independence as taxpayers.