Taxpayers Pay for Wal-Mart's "Low Road"

Of the many ways that Arkansas-based Wal-Mart endangers the public interest, one of the most insidious is how, by paying its workers low wages with almost no benefits, they force tens of thousands of employees to rely on state and federal public assistance programs to make ends meet.

In other words, Wal-Mart -- one of the biggest and most profitable companies in the world -- is forcing taxpayers to underwrite the costs of their business to the tune of billions of dollars.

Good Jobs First, an excellent advocacy group for "high road" development, has released a survey about how many workers and their families are forced onto Medicaid and State Children's Health Insurance Programs in different states to make up for Wal-Mart's dead-end jobs. Some disturbing results from the South:

ALABAMA: The Montgomery Advertiser found in February 2005 that families of Wal-Mart workers are the top dependents on Medicaid. 3,864 children of Wal-Mart employees depend on Medicaid for health insurance. The next highest company, McDonald's, has 1,615 employee's children on the program.

FLORIDA: In December 2004, the Tallahassee Democrat revealed that 50,000 workers and their dependents rely on Medicaid for health insurance. McDonald's was the worst culprit in the Sunshine State, with 1,792 claims filed. Wal-Mart had 756.

GEORGIA: 10,261 children of Wal-Mart workers rely on PeachCare for Kids, the state's program for low-income families, according to a February 2004 report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

TENNESSEE: 25% of Wal-Mart workers in Tennesse are enrolled in TennCare, the state's health plan for the poor and uninsured, according to a January 2005 investigation by the Memphis Commercial Appeal. That's 9,617 employees.

WEST VIRGINIA: The Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail revealed last December that 452 Wal-Mart workers in the state have children dependent on the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the most of any company.

(Note: this isn't just a Southern thing, of course. The survey also looks at reports out of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington, and Wisconsin. And I notice a story out today showing that 845 Wal-Mart employees in Iowa rely on Medicaid for health insurance.)

Most disturbing of all is that Wal-Mart is driving up public assistance caseloads at the very time state lawmakers are demanding sharp cuts in these programs. For example, Tennessee's excellent TennCare program is under assault due to rising costs (in part caused by Wal-Mart and kindred companies), with proposed cuts that could strip thousands of health coverage.

And as if that isn't bad enough, an earlier report by GJF shows that state and local governments have given Wal-Mart subsidiaries over $1 billion in tax breaks and other "incentives" to set up their stores -- money the company clearly doesn't need.

So the public is paying twice -- in direct corporate welfare, and indirect costs from workers driven into poverty -- to subsidize a giant company that's swimming in profits, exploits workers, busts unions, drains community resources, exacerbates urban sprawl, violates human rights abroad, and otherwise violates the public trust.

Where's the "moral values" crowd when you need them?