Remember that old Monty Python routine? (http://www.montypython.net/scripts/4york.php). "You had a crust of bread? Luxury! We only had rocks to suck on" (or something along those lines).
We just spend a week at my parents' home in Walnut Creek, and every moment was luxury. I know they're a lot better off now than when I was a kid, but a few things haven't changed. Most notably, my mom is still the most generous person I know, and she's always looking out for the comfort and well-being of everyone in her home. She keeps an incredibly comfortable guest room, maintains a spotless house, constantly prepares food, and dreams up ways to provide extra luxury. She took me out for my first-ever mani/pedi, and out to have my hair done -- not even cut, just washed and styled. Who does that? Mom and Dad both worked hard all their lives and I'm so glad they have a comfortable retirement -- they deserve it.
Back home now, I'm realizing that even without a lot of money, I have a pretty luxurious life. It's warm. We always have plenty to eat with extra to share. We have all the labor-saving appliances, internet, cell phones, and a reliable car. We even have some equity in our house, a nice little safety net for the future.
It was 20 degrees outside last night, and more than 1,000 people in Portland slept outside. We're working to provide more affordable housing, more emergency shelters, more free food and clothes. But that work is all only a bandaid. People in our cities won't stop dying from exposure until we reverse the financial policies that are allowing the rich to get richer while dramatically increasing the number of people living below the poverty line.
The Walton family (owners of Walmart) is the richest family in America. One of their practices that helps them acquire so much wealth is to hire at or near minimum wage and to limit hours to 30 or less, so they don't have to pay for benefits. As a result, their employees need government assistance to survive, most often food stamps (SNAP). Walmart employees receive $6.2 BILLION in food assistance, medicaid, and subsidized housing. MORE THAN SIX BILLION DOLLARS a year!
Walmart profited $3.3 billion in 2015, almost half of what they cost taxpayers. We'd be better off handing them at check for $3 billion a year in trade for them going out of business! They do provide jobs, so people who are poor but want to work can do so, but the cost of those jobs is staggering.
One solution to this form of public parasite is to legislate mandatory reimbursement of public expense from companies profiting more than a specified percentage of their value. Another, of course, is to boycott these companies. Better yet, write to them and expain why you will only patronize their stores when you see a significant increase in social responsibility.
Big business isn't just turning a blind eye ala Atlas Shrugged. Big business is creating the poverty with unethical employment practices.
Just for the record, Walmart is now working to donate excess food and reduce commercial waste in response to an $82 million fine for dumping hazardous waste. The largest retailer in the world seems to only act responsibly when they get hit in the pocketbook.
Want to see both sides of the luxury coin? Look at the Walton family and any one typical employee's family.
Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.