On January 9, 2018, CNBC reports that Jeff Bezos (né Jorgensen) — founder/chairman/CEO of Amazon and the owner of Washington Post — surpassed Microsoft mogul Bill Gates to become the world’s richest man, with $105.1 billion in wealth.
Gates, once the world’s richest man, is now worth “only” $93.3 billion.
17 days later, propelled by the launch of Amazon Go, Bezos’ net worth increased another $2.8 billion to a total of $107.9 billion. (CNBC)
So it’s a downright disgrace that 10% of Amazon’s workers in Ohio are on food stamps (SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) — the working poor in America. Amazon is one of the largest employers in Ohio, with more than 6,000 workers and thousands more to be added soon at three new big warehouses.
But Amazon is also one of the largest employers in Ohio of workers who need food assistance to get by.
A study by the think tank Policy Matters Ohio found that according to the Ohio Department of Job & Family Services, as of last August, as many as 10% or 1,430 Amazon employees or family members in Ohio were getting food stamps. That places Amazon 19th among all Ohio employers in the number of employees receiving SNAP. Just months before, Amazon didn’t even rank in the top 50.
The Amazon employees on food stamps include both full- and part-time workers, but it is likely mostly part-time workers require food assistance. Amazon operates data centers, wind farms, and Whole Foods outlets in Ohio, but the largest number of employees are at two big warehouses near Columbus.
While more than one in every ten Amazon employee in Ohio are on food stamps, Amazon gets millions of dollars in state and local subsidies at its warehouses, including (Bloomberg Businessweek):
- $17 million in tax incentives from the state of Ohio,and over $1.5 million in cash from JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development agency, as part of a two-warehouse deal — all funded with income from the state’s liquor monopoly.
- At least $123 million in tax breaks and $2.9 million in cash grants in four deals with JobsOhio since 2014.
- A 15-year exemption on state and local property and sales taxes, and $1.4 million in cash, in a 2014 deal with JobsOhio for Amazon spending $1.1 billion to build three data centers and a promise of 120 jobs.
- No property taxes to Licking County for 15 years, a deal that Amazon negotiated in 2015 with local officials and JobsOhio.
At the same time, Amazon‘s new facilities in Ohio, totaling almost a million square feet, make use of public services like the fire department and emergency responders. At least once a day, a medical unit from West Licking Fire Station 3 makes a run to the Amazon warehouse 3.1 miles away, in the township of Etna, about 20 miles east of Columbus. Steve Little, the fire district administrator, said the calls for routine medical issues that occur in grueling warehouse jobs come at all hours, including shortness of breath, chest pains, and myriad minor injuries. During the busy holiday season, the warehouse sometimes issues multiple emergency calls a day. Little said, “We have to protect, but we get no extra money. We have no voice in these deals, and we get no cash. Our residents are being forced to pay instead.” In November 2017, voters in Little’s district were asked to approve a five-year, $6.5 million property tax levy to keep the fire department operating.
The deals Ohio made with Amazon create surprisingly few jobs. Ohio’s Republican state auditor David Yost says: “$123 million is a lot of money, and you ought to get a lot for that. It’s really hard to know how much the state of Ohio paid per [Amazon] job.”
Ohio’s job-growth rate has trailed the U.S. average for 57 consecutive months; in August it was an anemic 1.1%, compared with the 1.5% national rate. In 2013, Yost threatened to compel JobsOhio to be more transparent by showing him more numbers. So Governor John Kasich pushed a bill through the state legislature stripping public officials of the right to audit JobsOhio’s books. A private auditor now conducts an annual review, which is partly redacted before publication.
I thank God John Kasich didn’t win the GOP primaries and wasn’t elected POTUS.