Monday, June 23, 2014

The fight for equality: columnist calls out Walmart

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 9:15 AM

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Timothy Egan, writing for the New York Times, says that as long as Republicans in Congress stand in the way of anything beneficial to working people, such as an increase in the minimum wage, it will be left to private enterprise to fill the gap. Starbucks, he writes, is doing its part with some improved employee benefits.

But Walmart, he writes:

.. is a net drain on taxpayers, forcing employees into public assistance with its poverty-wage structure.

...

Walmart, the nation’s top private employer and the world’s largest public corporation, is a big part of the problem — and could be a big part of the solution. Their humiliating wages force thousands of employees to look to food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of welfare. A sign appearing at a Walmart in Ohio last year, asking people to donate food so that the company’s employees “could enjoy Thanksgiving,” was a perfect symbol of what’s wrong with the nation’s most despised retailer. Working at Walmart may not make you poor, but it certainly keeps you poor — at the expense of the rest of us.

By one measure, done by House Democrats last year in looking at data from Wisconsin, the average Walmart superstore cost taxpayers $904,000 a year in various subsidies, or more than $5,000 per employee.

Walmart disputes these figures, claiming the average full-time store worker makes at least $12 an hour, or enough to be just above the poverty level for a family of four. But these numbers are skewed by higher pay for management. The average “associate” at Walmart makes $8.81 an hour — poverty wage — according to the market-research firm IBISWorld, as of 2011. Another independent source, Payscale, says the average is under $11 an hour. No matter the exact figure, there’s no dispute that Walmart’s business model forces thousands of hard-working people to look for outside help just to get by.

And under that model, Walmart has made a fortune — $17 billion in profits last year, executive compensation for one man at the top in excess of $20 million a year, and a windfall making the six heirs of the founding Walton family worth at least $150 billion.

Egan writes that Walmart could give substantial raises without harming shareholder values.

Maybe, though, customer opinion could produce changes. Surveys show much higher disapproval among shoppers for Walmart than Costco, a big reason being Walmart's treatment of workers.

UPDATE: Walmart responds with a bit of snark.

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