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Bar graph showing that 66 percent of low-wage workers work for firms employing more than 100 people.
Republican rhetoric about small businesses aside, here's why the minimum wage remains a poverty wage: 66 percent of workers earning less than $10 an hour work for businesses with more than 100 employees (PDF). It's that lobbying muscle, not some noble concern for the mom and pop shop or the plucky young entrepreneur trying to get off the ground, that ensures that when we talk about low-wage work in the United States, we really mean low.

Those big companies are doing just fine, post-recession. The National Employment Law Project took a look at the top 50 low-wage employers and found that:

  • 92 percent were profitable last year
  • 78 percent were profitable for the past three years
  • 75 percent are earning higher revenue now than before the recession
  • 63 percent are earning higher profits now than before the recession
We're talking Walmart, Yum! Brands (aka Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut), and McDonald's, Target and Abercrombie & Fitch, Darden Restaurants (aka Olive Garden and Red Lobster). More than half of all low-wage jobs were in just five industries in 2011: food services; accommodation; retail; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and administrative services. That's even though those industries account for only a third of overall private sector employment. Of course, while these corporations believe in low wages at the bottom, that doesn't extend to the top:
  • In the most recent fiscal year, the top-paid executive at each of these 50 companies was awarded an average $9.4 million in compensation—even as many of their employees are paid at or near the minimum wage (just over $15,000 per year).
  • The top 50 low-wage employers have distributed $174.8 billion in dividend payments and share buybacks to their stock holders over the past five fiscal years.
They also don't stint on lobbying money. In 2011, Walmart spent $7.8 million on lobbying. McDonald's spent $1.5 million.

Still think it's small business that leads the fight to keep low-wage workers poor?

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