In 2015, Ohio gave Amazon more than $17 million in tax breaks to open its first two distribution centers in the state. The handout was heralded as a job-creator.
By August 2017, more than one in ten of those new Ohio Amazon employees or their family members received government food assistance, state data show.
The data, obtained by the research group Policy Matters Ohio and shared with The Daily Beast, suggest chronic poverty in the once-promising Amazon centers. Policy Matters Ohio estimates that more than one in ten Amazon employees in Ohio receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which are available to people and families living below the poverty line. Meanwhile, Amazon is living large in Ohio, receiving more than $125 million in tax breaks and cash grants to open new facilities in the state since 2014.
The Policy Matters Ohio study, compiled from Ohio Department of Job and Family Services data, ranks the state’s employers with the most employees in families that receive SNAP benefits. Fast food restaurants and discount stores dominate the list’s top spots. Walmart leads the rankings, with 11,560 employees in households dependent on food assistance.
But Amazon is one of the fastest-risers through the ranks. As of the August 2017 data, Amazon ranked nineteenth in the state, with 1,430 employees in families receiving SNAP benefits.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Amazon said it was paying its full-time workers a living wage.
“Amazon full-time hourly employees in Ohio earn between $14.50 and $15 an hour as a starting wage with regular pay increases plus Amazon stock and performance based bonuses,” a company spokesperson said. “We also provide comprehensive benefits which include health, vision, and dental insurance coverage starting on day one, generous maternity and family leave, tuition for career education, and a network of support to succeed.”
Amazon’s appearance on the list is a steep rise in the rankings for a company that, until recently, had no Ohio employees.
“In Ohio for many years, Amazon had no physical presence, very purposely so,” Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, told The Daily Beast, adding that Amazon stayed out of certain states to avoid paying taxes there. “But in the past few years, Amazon has changed its business strategy. They decided they need to be able to deliver very quickly all over the country, requiring them to have fulfillment centers all over the country. In Ohio, two major fulfillment centers opened outside Columbus in the past two years.”
Ohio bid hard for those facilities, ultimately awarding Amazon more than $17 million in tax breaks for the two centers.
“Ohio is competing with multiple Midwest states for both fulfillment centers,” the state said in a 2015 statement, after it was revealed that the Ohio Tax Credit Authority had tried luring Amazon with a 75 percent, 15-year tax credit.
Ohio’s return on those handouts is often vague. Amazon’s first two fulfillment centers were among a series of deals brokered in part by JobsOhio, a privately owned jobs development agency that works with the state’s government. Not even Ohio officials know the full details of deals JobsOhio brokered with Amazon. JobsOhio is part of Governor John Kasich’s push to privatize the state’s jobs creation efforts, and the agency is notoriously opaque.
When Ohio State Auditor David Yost pushed for more transparency from JobsOhio in 2013, Kasich backed a bill barring state officials from auditing the agency, Bloomberg previously reported.
The often-murky origins of the state’s massive Amazon tax breaks have led to speculation that the e-commerce giant is getting too good a discount, without passing the wealth onto its employees.
Ohio’s average SNAP-receiving household is a two-person family, Schiller said. Based on the state data, which shows 1,430 Amazon employees in families that receive food assistance, “it seems likely about 700 employees get benefits,” Schiller said. Out of the state’s approximately 6,000 Amazon employees, that’s more than one in 10 on SNAP benefits.
Amazon employees’ SNAP eligibility might not be a matter of wages. Full-time staff at the Ohio centers receive between $14.50 and $15, job listings show. But workers might not be getting enough hours to earn a living wage.
“To the degree that Amazon has a lot of part-time employees, even if Amazon paid much more than minimum wage, they might still show up on the list,” Schiller said. “If you have a lot of temporary workers, as Amazon does, you might also show up on the list.”