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One BILLION dollars

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How much is one billion dollars to Target? How much is it to their employees? How much is it to taxpayers?

How could we forget the newly-cryogenically-unfrozen Dr. Evil from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery holding the world for ransom and asking for only one million dollars? Promptly, his right hand man, Number Two, advises him to ask for more money. The bald Mike Myers lifts his pinky to the bottom corner of his lip and instead demands one hundred billion dollars for the safety of the planet.

These days, I have been feeling a lot like Number Two (as in the character played by Robert Wagner - not the polite bathroom phrase). Almost every time I listen to Minnesota Public Radio I hear the clever sponsor message, "...Target - On track to give one billion dollars for education by the end of 2015," or something like that.

One billion dollars. You can almost hear the slight muffling of the speaker's voice as if he had his pinky finger hovering in front of his face. Even though Target profits from this sly marketing blurb, a billion dollars is still a lot of money, right?

After doing some research for a local online publication, I came across a report released by Minnesotans for a Fair Economy called At What Cost: How Minnesota Taxpayers Subsidize Big Box Stores' Poverty Wages.

Released last month, the report details how much money Minnesota taxpayers spend on public assistance, like Medicaid and Food Stamps, for workers at large retail corporations like Target and Walmart. Adding up all of the major retail corporations in Minnesota, the cost to taxpayers is over $150 million each year.

Target's low-wage-earning employees in Minnesota alone account for over $44.7 million in public assistance annually.

Doing some notably over-generalized math, if the 75 Target stores in Minnesota employ 5,850 workers who need some form of public assistance resulting in a $44.7 million tab to be picked up by taxpayers, then the 1,778 stores nationwide would employ tens of thousands of workers who need - get this - slightly more than one billion dollars in assistance each year.

Of course, my rough calculations use the Minnesota Target ratio of stores to millions of dollars in assistance, so they are limited and could be far away from the actual tax burden dollar amount in the U.S. It could be more, it could be less - but for fun, let's call it "a cool billion."

It costs taxpayers a cool billion dollars each year to pay for the basic necessities of Target employees. As of 2012, Target has donated a total of $777 million, a $277 million increase from 2009. So yes, they are "on track" to donate a billion dollars by the end of 2015. However, at a rate of $92.3 million per year in average education donations, they are lagging far behind our annual cool billion. Instead of being "on track," taxpayers could have funded the project several times over.

If Target paid its workers a living wage, our cool billion tax dollars could go directly to schools each year.

In this metaphor, if I am Number Two, then Target is Dr. Evil, stroking his hairless bull terrier, Bullseye. When Target says, "one billion dollars," I am thinking that is not nearly enough. It might be enough for sharks with laser beams attached to their heads, but it's not enough for the tens of thousands of Target employees working for poverty wages.

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