Who’s a Better Employer: The Government or Wal-Mart?

“We find that nearly two million private sector employees working on behalf of America earn wages too low to support a family, making $12 or less per hour. This is more than the number of low-wage workers at Walmart and McDonald’s combined.”

At the very least, argues a recent report from Demos, the American government owes employees on its payroll a livable wage. Demos, a research and policy center focused on economic stability, defines low-wage work as “a job paying $12 an hour or less, equivalent to an annual income of about $24,000 for a full-time worker. Nationwide, a family of four trying to subsist on $24,000 a year hovers near the poverty level. Even a single worker with no dependents would find no room in a basic budget for health coverage, a retirement nest egg, or building emergency savings.”

Using this definition, employment figures from a National Employment Law Project report, and estimates of the share of low-wage workers at each business, Demos calculated that McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) employ a combined 1.48 million people at a wage too low to support a family, afford healthcare, or save for retirement. By itself, this number may not necessarily be shocking. Demos places the companies in a bucket of corporations “aiming for the highest possible profit at the lowest possible cost.”

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The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour, and it’s unsurprising that employers in the retail and food services industries would take advantage of the low rate. However, what Demos finds ethically dubious is that the American government directly or indirectly employs 1.99 million people that fit under the same low-wage definition.

“These are employees working on behalf of America, doing jobs that we have decided are worthy of public funding — yet they’re being treated in a very un-American way.”