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Tuesday, 19 June 2018 05:22

Amazon Nixes Aid for Homeless in Seattle

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

amazonhomelessjpgAmazon delivers to homes, but cares little about the homeless. (Photo: Mike Mozart)

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As of the end of 2017, Amazon employed 541,900 people worldwide. The number of employees continues to grow, and the company has promised to hire at least 50,000 more of them when it opens its second headquarters -- in a city as yet to be determined -- in the next few years.

Geekwire noted in a February 1 article of the firm's behemoth growth:

For comparison sake, Amazon now employs more people than live in the cities of Albuquerque, N.M., (559,000) or Tucson, Ariz., (530,000) and by next quarter will likely pass Milwaukee, Wisc. (595,000).

Amazon’s total employment is also catching up with Seattle’s total population (704,352), and is now bigger than its home city was in 2000 (564,000).

However, there is miserly side of Amazon and other large companies in Seattle -- including Starbucks. This became clear after the city council passed a levy on companies that earned $20 million or more in gross yearly revenue. These companies, under the ordinance approved last month, would have placed a $275-per-employee tax on large companies to help improve the living conditions of homeless people in Seattle.

However, Amazon led a coalition of big businesses to have the levy rescinded, and it was successful, with the ordinance being negated only a few short weeks after it was passed.

Amazon relies on delivering products to addresses, so maybe that is why it is indifferent to the plight of homeless people. However, more likely it just doesn't want to pay a fee-per-employee tax in its hometown of Seattle because it would lower the profits of the company.

A June 12 Washington Post article describes the outcome of the corporate resistance to a modest effort to improve the lot of homeless people:

The Seattle City Council on Tuesday voted to repeal a tax hike on large employers that it instituted less than a month ago, backing down from a plan fiercely opposed by Amazon.com and much of the city's business community.

With Amazon and Starbucks funding a ballot challenge to repeal the tax, the city's Democratic council struck down the tax levy they approved about four weeks ago. Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan (D) is expected to approve the repeal.

The new tax would have raised $48 million annually to combat Seattle's homelessness and affordable housing crises. The Seattle area has the third-largest homeless population in the country, according to federal statistics.

Considering that the tax would have raised less than $50 million a year, the impact on the businesses, such as Amazon, would have been relatively miniscule. The levy would have been split up among approximately 600 businesses.

The reversal on the part of the Seattle City Council was not its first rebuff from the local business community on paying a fair share to alleviate homelessness. According to the article in the Post, "Seattle officials initially pitched a $500-per-employee tax on large businesses. In a show of opposition, Amazon stopped construction on a new tower in the city." 

These bullying tactics have a far-ranging impact. Take for example the 20 cities that Amazon is considering for its second headquarters. Each of those municipalities is now on notice that Amazon would likely exclude them from the potential location list if they imposed taxes to aid the homeless or otherwise benefit their communities. Many of the cities under consideration are instead offering billions of dollars in tax benefits and other perks to lure Amazon.

Clearly Amazon and its large corporate allies in Seattle are capable of threatening economic retaliation if presented with ordinances -- or laws -- that require them to pay a fee that benefits the community.

In a June 17 article, USA TODAY explained the dilemma the Seattle City Council faces in trying to help the homeless:

Lack of income tax in the state, which is enshrined in the Washington constitution, has turned out to be a problem for Seattle as the company has grown. Amazon has about 45,000 employees in the city, where it is its largest private employer. Those employees tend to earn good salaries, allowing landlords to bid up the price of scarce housing and causing rental costs across the area to rise.

Unable to raise more revenue from the high-tech workers who have flooded town, Seattle looked for new ways to raise money to address the problems those same workers were causing in the housing market. The city was so concerned about homelessness that in its last budget period it created a special revenue task force on housing and homelessness to look at ways it could find funds.

There are more than 12,000 homeless people in Seattle on a given night. In the United States, as of the end of 2017, there were approximately 555,000 homeless individuals each evening.

The step backward in corporations assuming a role in resolving community needs, as represented by the rescinding of the head tax in Seattle to alleviate homelessness, does not bode well for holding wealthy corporations responsible for being part of efforts to resolve community problems. Amazon may deliver to every household in the United States, but it has chosen to pit its profits against aid for the homeless.