Now, of course, we have stores open on Thanksgiving Day because it's so much more important to sell the latest consumer devices than to allow your employees to spend a day with their families.
Today is also a day of protest against Wal-Mart and their business practices. Wal-Mart made around $17 billion last year. The company earns that profit by paying its hourly workers subsistence wages and by holding their hours down.
|Sign at a Wal-Mart in Ohio asking for donations for associates who can't afford Thanksgiving Dinner on the wages Wal-Mart pays.|
Workers who toil for minimum wage can work full-time and still find themselves under the federal poverty line. They may receive food stamps (SNAP), welfare payments or earned income tax credits to supplement their meager incomes. They may also qualify for Medicaid (or subsidies for private health insurance). President Clinton's welfare reform package encouraged companies to keep their wages low since welfare recipients were required to work (and, needless to say, found themselves in minimum wage jobs).
These income transfer programs allow them to scrape by. But someone who is working a full-time job shouldn't have to just scrape by. It is a sad statement on our economic model that you can work full-time and still be living in poverty.
Ironically enough, the same companies that take advantage of income transfer programs to subsidize their low wages, do their best to do away with any legislation that would further regulate their businesses. They are more than happy for government interference when it allows them to pay poverty-level wages but want no part of it should the proposed rules or regulations deflect one penny from the bottom line.
The federal minimum wage must be raised. And I'm not talking about President Obama's day-late-and-dollar-short plan of hiking it to $9.00 an hour. That figure still leaves full-time workers in poverty. The minimum wage needs to be raised to somewhere between $12.00 and $15.00 an hour. Wal-Mart and its shareholders can subsist on a little less profit every year but their employees can't survive on what they make today. That dynamic needs to change.
Our economic philosophy cannot be built solely on the idea of greater economic efficiency. Our society is not a machine. It is made up of people who all have to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. Economic fairness and equity must trump efficiency in the long run.