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Mc Donalds really stepped in it recently when they published a budget for their employees to help them make ends meet on the low wages they make flipping burgers. The McBudget suggested workers get a second job, did not include any money for food or gasoline, and allocated only $20 a month for health insurance. The company deservedly came under fire and ridicule.

This kind of stupid action feeds the notion that mega corporations like Mickey D and Walmart are responsible for the majority of low-wage jobs in the U.S. and around the world. And they are, if you only count jobs where the company actually signs the paychecks. But there’s another player in this mix that’s responsible for creating more poverty level jobs than these two companies combined. It’s good ol’ Uncle Sam. That’s right, the federal government supports more U.S. low wage jobs than McDonald’s and Walmart put together, according to a recent report from Demos.

We don’t hear much about it because these exploited workers don’t get a paycheck directly from the U.S. Treasury. They work for contractors – otherwise known as middlemen. Contractors are paid with your tax dollars to staff government facilities around the country. They also get big bucks to provide goods like military uniforms, or services such as construction, home health care, or cleaning government buildings.

Though the contracts can run into the billions, front line workers are paid at poverty level, and sometimes work for decades without a raise above our paltry minimum wage. Guadalupe Rodriguez is an example. She has worked for almost 20 years for a janitorial company at Union Station, a federal property. She receives no benefits and has never made more than the minimum. Workers who are undocumented, and there are some, are paid in cash and cheated out of even that lowly sum.

In total, these employees exploited by companies raking in your tax dollars number about two million. And that doesn’t count more than a million farm workers at giant agribusinesses subsidized with government money.

Well some of those workers are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Rolling strikes in Washington this summer have already been held at the Smithsonian, Union Station, and the Ronald Reagan building. Led by the union-backed Good Jobs Nation, the strikes are sure to spread to other cities with large numbers of government-contracted workers.

The Demos report urges President Obama to issue an Executive Order mandating higher wages and benefits as a condition of contracting. But better yet, why not cut out the middlemen? Uncle Sam used to employ people directly, with decent wages and benefits. Now those jobs are outsourced to corporations making big profits on the backs of workers.

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A version of this blog appeared originally on Other Words


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