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Wells Fargo's Crimes Against Women (and Everybody Else)

I'm with Code Pink Portland and We Are Oregon. I was asked to speak at the demo on April 23 in front of Wells Fargo in San Francisco. Below is an expanded and updated version of my remarks.
I was asked to speak here on how Wells Fargo's policies affect women in particular. Before I address that issue, I should say that for the last quarter century I've been working with people who became disabled through motor vehicle accidents, on-the-job accidents, or serious illnesses. First they lost their health, then their jobs and health insurance. After they depleted their life savings, they lost their homes. Seeing one person or family go through this is pretty upsetting. Hearing the same stories for 25 years, in the so-called "richest country in the world," is enough to make my head explode.

Situations like this don't occur in civilized countries. A friend of mine who spent half her life in Europe says they have social safety nets over there. Disabled people may not live as well as they did when they were working, but they aren't thrown out on the street. Now, of course, it's not just the disabled who are likely to lose their homes.

This brings me to the issue of Wells Fargo's crimes against women. I'm sure you've heard that Wells specifically targeted black and Hispanic communities with subprime loans. Women got the same treatment. According to the Consumer Federation of America, although women and men have roughly the same credit scores, women were 32% more likely to receive subprime loans than men. This was true across the boardówithin every income and ethnic group. According to Maria Poblet, executive director of Causa Justa (Just Cause), the majority of foreclosures have been on female-headed households.

Men are more likely to divorce or otherwise abandon their families during times of high unemployment, so it should be no surprise that the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population consists of women and their children.

The elderly have also been targeted, and the majority of the elderly are women. If you're on Social Security and need a quick loan to fix your car or pay the 20% of your doctor's bill that Medicare isn't covering, you can get a "direct deposit advance" from Wells. They then take money out of your directly deposited Social Security check until you've paid them back. The catch is that they charge 274% annual interest. One out of four bank payday borrowers are on Social Security.

Wells Fargo has also financed some of the largest payday lenders in the U.S. Even when they aren't making the payday loan themselves, they're still sucking up a percentage of the profit.

Wells invests in for-profit prisons. You probably know that the U.S. imprisons more people than any other nation. We've got less than 5% of the world's population and over 23% of its jail and prison inmates. Over the last 30 years, the number of women prisoners here has increased by 800%. In other words, women are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population.

Wells is a major investor the two largest for-profit prison corporations, the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Here's how these corporations work: CCA recently sent letters to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons in exchange for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prisons would remain at 90% capacity. Even if the crime rate went down, the state would be contractually obligated to provide a steady stream of inmates, and pay for them with your tax dollars.

Guards in private prisons are poorly-paid and poorly-trained, and they don't have unions. According to Amnesty International, imprisoned women in the U.S. are subject to humiliation, rape, and even physical torture. Private prison food is even worse than the food in public prisons, and the medical care is often non-existent. But that's good for the bottom lines of the GEO Group, CCA, and Wells Fargo.

When I told a neighbor about the lack of medical care in prisons, he said, "Lots of people on the outside don't have medical insurance."

"Yes," I replied, "but if they're having a heart attack, they can always go to the emergency room. If you're in a cell the guards might just leave you there." Many people have died this way.

Around one million prisoners of both sexes work in call centers, slaughterhouses, or textile factories, and get paid somewhere between 93 cents and $4.73 per day. They get farmed out to Fortune 500 companies like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM. Another plus for the bottom line, for all these companies and Wellsóbut not for the American worker, whose wages are being undercut, not just by Chinese slave labor but by slave laborers right here at home.

With all these lucrative investments, 2011 was a banner year for Wells Fargo. Yesterday, April 24, they voted to give CEO John Stumpf an annual salary of $13 million, plus additional compensation worth $7 million.

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