Poverty is rampant. Hunger is widespread. But don't worry about America's largest corporations -- they're doing just fine.
Fortune released its annual list of the country's 500 biggest companies this week, and it turns out to have been a good year for corporate America. In 2011, the Fortune 500 generated a combined $824.5 billion in earnings -- an all-time record, and a 16 percent jump from the previous year.
The report echos others indicating corporate America is experiencing boom times. U.S. corporate profits returned to pre-recession levels, according to the International Institute for Labour Studies released Friday, hitting 15 percent of gross domestic product.
The larger economic picture hasn't been so rosy of course. Twelve and a half million people are still out of work. Many of the new jobs that have been created lately are low-paying food service gigs. A record 46 million Americans are in poverty, and millions more are only just clinging onto financial stability -- one emergency is all it would take to tip them into disaster.
But much like the too-big-to-fail banks -- whose assets now exceed half the size of the U.S. economy, and which have made more profits since the financial crisis than they did in the eight years prior -- corporations don't seem bothered by the bleak weather on Main Street. They just keep growing.
In fact, many have benefitted on the backs of workers that in some cases are underpaid or at risk of losing their jobs. Among the largest companies on Fortune's list is Walmart, at number two, which was recently hit with a $4.8 million fine from the government for allegedly failing to pay its workers overtime; General Electric, at number six, which may have paid an average federal tax rate of just 2.3 percent over the past decade, according to the group Citizens for Tax Justice; and General Motors, at number five, which amassed $9.1 billion in profits last year and recently froze pay for its work staff of 26,000.
Further down the list are Lockheed Martin, which recorded $2.6 billion in profits last year and offered buyout plans to more than 6,000 employees; and Pfizer, which took in $10 billion in profits and announced plans to lay off more than 16,000 workers.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated only 46 Americans live in poverty.
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