Donald Trump tells us every day the US economy is “strong”, “booming” and “roaring”. Yes. That’s true for his billionaire friends. Not so true for tens of millions of workers.
On Monday night, at a town hall meeting that will be livestreamed, we will discuss what rarely gets seen or heard in mainstream media. And that is that despite the fact that the unemployment rate in the US is relatively low, real inflation accounted for, wages for the average American worker continue to decline and 140 million Americans lack the resources to pay for housing, food, childcare, healthcare, transportation and a cellphone without going into debt.
All over America workers are asking themselves why, if the economy is “booming”, are they forced to work longer hours for lower wages. Why, if the economy is “roaring”, are they not able to afford childcare, send their kids to college or put aside enough money for a decent retirement.
The American people also want to know why, as taxpayers, they have to subsidize and provide corporate welfare to the wealthiest and most profitable corporations in the country. How does it happen that there are major corporations in America where CEOs receive extravagant compensation packages, who pay their workers wages so low that many of them are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid and public housing – subsidized by taxpayers – to survive?
I could be wrong, but I doubt that you will ever hear these questions asked in the corporate media. That is why on Monday night, 16 July at 7pm ET in the US Capitol, we will be holding a town hall meeting with low-wage workers from Amazon, Disney, Walmart, McDonald’s and American Airlines. This town hall will be livestreamed on my Facebook page. Importantly, we have invited the CEOs of these corporations to sit on a panel with their own employees. Tune in to see if they have the courage to show up.
Here are just a few facts about what is going on inside these corporations:
- During the first four months of this year, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, saw his wealth increase by $275m – every single day. Bezos makes more wealth in 10 seconds than the median Amazon employee makes in a year. While Amazon paid no federal income taxes last year, it has been reported that one out of three Amazon workers in Arizona and 2,400 of its workers in Pennsylvania and Ohio rely on food stamps to feed their families.
- Disney made $9bn in profits last year and gave its CEO Robert Iger a four-year compensation package worth up to $423m. Meanwhile, almost three-quarters of Disneyland workers say they don’t earn enough money to cover basic expenses every month, more than two-thirds are food insecure and more than one out of 10 report having been homeless over the last two years.
- The average cashier at McDonald’s would have to work over 895 years to make what the company’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook, earns in one year. While McDonald’s had enough money to reward its wealthy shareholders with $7.7bn in stock buybacks and dividends, it reneged on a commitment it made to its low-wage workers to pay them at least $1 an hour above the local minimum wage.
- US taxpayers are subsidizing Walmart’s low wages to the tune of at least $6.2bn each and every year. That makes the Walton family of Walmart, the wealthiest family in America, the largest welfare recipient in the country. Over the past five years, Walmart made over $70bn in profits and paid its CEO Doug McMillon nearly $23m last year – 1,188 times more than its median employee.
- American Airlines is using $2bn of its profits over the next two years on stock buybacks and will pay its CEO, Doug Parker, up to $31m in total compensation this year. Meanwhile, many of its ticket agents at Envoy Air make as little as $9.48 an hour, forcing many of them to rely on taxpayer assistance to make ends meet.
Over the past few months, my staff and I have spoken with workers at several of these companies who are struggling desperately to provide for themselves and their families.
A Walmart worker told us: “Right now I just can’t make ends meet. I’ve been on the verge of eviction for falling so far behind on my rent. I’m getting by on food stamps.” Another worker from Florida said: “Even after Walmart’s company-wide wage increase to $11 an hour, I cannot afford to pay my bills … Although I’ve been here for almost two years, I make the same $11 that someone walking through the door makes.” Another in Texas said: “At Walmart, you work as hard as you can it’s always the same. ‘Ladder of Opportunity?’ There’s no such thing. You work and you work, but you can’t get ahead.”
One McDonald’s worker told us: “We’re tired of surviving, we want to live. We can’t even survive off $7.25.” Another said: “We don’t want to rely on assistance programs anymore or figure out how we’re going to pay our rent or afford our next meal.”
An American Airlines worker told us: “I can barely pay for my car now, half of my rent. Poverty wages just don’t cut it.” Another said: “I work 20 extra additional hours a week because we have a mortgage, we have bills, and plus we have college tuition … I’m just so overwhelmed. All the time, I’m tired. I don’t have time with my girls or my husband either,” and: “I talk to some of my coworkers and sometimes I bring groceries for them because they have nothing to eat.”
An Amazon worker told us: “I gave myself a hernia trying to hurry up and go to the bathroom within one minute and 30 seconds.”
A Disneyland worker told us: “I currently don’t make enough to eat three times a day. I eat cans of tuna or celery sticks and carrots because that’s what I can afford. I typically eat once sometimes twice a day because I can’t afford three meals a day.”
These are just a few examples of a much larger story about the growing divide between the top 1% and everyone else. In the year 2018, no one in America, especially those working for a profitable corporation, should be living in poverty or struggling economically.
At the town hall meeting that will be livestreamed on Monday night on my Facebook page, we will be hearing from these workers and discussing how we can create an economy that works for all of us, not just those on top. I hope you will join us.
- Bernie Sanders is a US senator for Vermont