John Culleton: Treatment of poor inexcusable

The biggest story in the nation is one that seldom makes the front page or the lead on the evening news. It is poverty, especially of the working poor.
There are many offenders, but America's largest retailers are the worst. Wal-Mart, by its own admission, has 825,000 employees whose earnings put them below the poverty line. The wealth controlled by the six Wal-Mart heirs is equal to the wealth controlled by the bottom 40 percent of our population. And a Wal-Mart manager in Canton, Ohio, put out bins for food donations from Wal-Mart employees so that other Wal-Mart employees could have something to eat above their normal fare on Thanksgiving.
Wal-Mart, as always, claims that to raise wages for their employees would force them to raise prices. But in 2013 Wal-Mart found enough cash to make a massive buy-back of its own stock. That batch of cash was enough to give every employee a $6 an hour raise. But management chose to make rich stockholders richer rather than make their impoverished employees less impoverished.
In either case, the price of their goods would not have gone up.
Wal-Mart isn't the only offender. McDonald's restaurants are encouraging their employees to file for food stamp assistance.
We talk derisively about "welfare queens." But the two biggest welfare queens are these two companies. Their employees draw billions in government assistance, making up for the just wages that they earn but are not paid.
Overall government spending is nearing a record high as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product, but wages are approaching a record low as a percentage of that same GDP.
Our House of Representatives is populated by many professed Christians, a few Jews and one Muslim, all people of the book. Psalm 34 says, "The Lord hears the cry of the poor," but that House is deaf to that cry.
Additional money for unemployment insurance is about to expire. Food stamps are about to be cut and are scheduled to be cut again in March. Our economy will take a corresponding hit.
The House has scheduled a total of 16 days in session for the months of November and December. And they are wasting those few days in meaningless legislation that has no chance of being signed into law. What are we paying them for?
Spending on safety net programs targeted at the lower end of our society is a good investment, economically speaking. Every dollar spent on the poorest among us returns more than that dollar in economic activity. You give a poor person a dollar and they will spend it, stimulating the economy. You give a rich person or large corporation that same dollar and they are likely to buy back stock, hide the money in the Cayman Islands or invest in a new plant in a third-world company where the wages are even lower.
Money spent on the poorest among us will stimulate the economy. That stimulus, in turn, will increase tax revenues, which will make our already shrinking deficit shrink faster. (Did you know that deficit spending is now half of what it was in 2007?) So from a stimulus point of view it makes sense. That stimulus, in turn, will get us more quickly to a balanced and then a surplus budget. So from a debt reduction point of view, it makes sense.
But most of all, from the standpoint of any faith or no faith at all, giving sustenance to the poor makes moral sense. It is the American way. Our current treatment of the least among us is an economic blunder, a scandal, a shame and a serious sin.