Low wages mean more than $150 billion in public assistance for working families


Republicans tend to talk like there are two distinct groups of people: working people, and moochers on government aid. This doesn’t mean Republicans support policies that benefit working people, like a minimum wage increase or paid sick leave, but it’s a strong moral distinction they like to make. In reality, though, most people—73 percent of them—receiving government aid are from families where at least one adult is working at least part-time. A new study from the University of California Center for Labor Research and Education looks at participation in four key aid programs—Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—finding that: … between 2009 and 2011 the federal government spent $127.8 billion per year on these four programs for working families and the states collectively spent $25 billion per year on Medicaid/CHIP and TANF for working families for a total of $152.8 billion per year. In all, more than half—56 percent—of combined state and federal spending on public assistance goes to working families. More than half of fast food workers are enrolled in one of these programs; nearly half of child care and home care workers are, as are one in four part-time college faculty. That means these are industries where low pay from employers is subsidized by public assistance—by taxpayers. Some states are looking to combat this, and not just by raising the minimum wage: In Connecticut, for example, a legislative proposal calls for large employers to pay a fee to the state for each worker who earns less than $15 an hour. In 2016, California will start publishing the names of employers that have more than 100 employees receiving Medicaid, and how much these companies cost the state in public assistance. On April 15, workers in several of the industries where low wages force high use of public assistance—fast food and home care and, yes, higher education—will be joining together to fight back with a national day of action. With median wages stagnating and economic inequality soaring, this is a fight for the broader middle class.


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