The generally brilliant Sarah Kliff wrote one of those Vox “too cool for school” articles, Tens of Thousands of Walmart Workers Are About to Lose Their Health Insurance — and it’s Good News! This is what you get when you let Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias spend too much time together. It’s got the Wonk Blog nerd factor with the counter-intuitiveness of a #SlatePitch: “What’s the giraffe’s most distinctive feature? Hint: It’s not the neck!” I just want to line up the whole Vox staff and slap them.
Here’s the thing. It actually isn’t counter-intuitive. When I heard that Walmart was going to drop their part-time employee’s insurance, I immediately understood. These people make so little money that they will certainly qualify for generous government subsidies under Obamacare. Of course, if the employee makes below 133% of the poverty rate, he will qualify for the Medicaid expansion. I don’t know what that means in the red states where ideological purity and “sending a message” mean more than helping the working poor. Regardless, I saw immediately that, at least in the long run (after all the red states get over their political hissy fits), that this is a good thing for the employees.
But this is not the main story. This is yet another story of how Walmart uses the government so it can bring its customers low-low prices while keeping the Walton family super-super rich. Kliff provides an example in her article that shows that a part-time employee getting insurance from Walmart would have to pay $111 per month through the company, but only $7 through the government. Well, I’m glad for that employee. But the broader story here is that Walmart treats its workers like dirt.
Consider food stamps. It is really great that Walmart employees can get food stamps to make ends meet. But let’s suppose that Walmart paid all their employees $17 per hour and so they didn’t qualify for food stamps. And then one day, Walmart announced that it was cutting all wages to $10 per hour and now the employees would qualify for food stamps and other forms of government aid. Would Vox publish a story, “Tens of Thousands of Walmart Workers Are About to Get Their Pay Cut — and it’s Good News!” No, they wouldn’t.
Even if the government made up every penny that Walmart cut, the story would be that Walmart was using government programs that help the poor in order to enrich its owners. And that is all that is going on here. The only difference is that in this case, it actually is good news for Walmart employees, but only because Walmart already treats them so badly. But notice that when Trader Joe’s did the same thing, it provided money to pay for what they expected their part-time employees would have to pay. Walmart could have taken the money that they now provide for insurance coverage for part-time employees and divide it up to help pay for their share of Obamacare. But they aren’t doing it. Instead, they are just ripping off the government and taking the windfall.
In her defense, Kliff understands this. She noted, “The loser in the Walmart decision is the federal budget.” But it is an afterthought. She spends a total of one sentence on this fact, “It’s shifting costs over to the government, which will now take on the financial burden of helping to pay for thousands’ of part-time workers’ medical bills.” And there is no mention of how else it might have been dealt with.
Conservatives should hate Walmart. All the money that goes to their poor workers is actually money that is taken directly from the government and given to the Walton family — the richest family in the United States. But when even liberals can’t seem to focus on this fact, it doesn’t speak well for future reform.
See Also: I Was a Middle Class Food Stamp Kid