The discount-retailing giant Wal-Mart is the biggest corporation in America and also the biggest employer–so, as one might expect, it’s the biggest target of every kind of lawsuit the trial lawyers can dream up and also of every kind of critique of “capitalism” that the Marxists in academia can dream up. From college professors to Democratic congressional staffers, all the liberal world hates Wal-Mart. Low wages, union-busting, sex-discrimination (thanks to the dubious Dukes case filed by a female employee who didn’t get a promotion because managment deemed her work habits lousy), and driving Mom-and-Pop stores out of business–Wal-Mart allegedly has committed every corporate sin.
But the weirdest complaint about Wal-Mart has got to be this one, reported by the Democratic staff of the House Education and Workforce Committee and retailed by anti-technology agitator Simon Head for the New York Review of Books:
“In analyzing Wal-Mart’s success in holding employee compensation at low levels, the report assesses the costs to US taxpayers of employees who are so badly paid that they qualify for government assistance even under the less than generous rules of the federal welfare system. For a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store, the government is spending $108,000 a year for children’s health care; $125,000 a year in tax credits and deductions for low-income families; and $42,000 a year in housing assistance. The report estimates that a two-hundred-employee Wal-Mart store costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year, or about $2,103 per Wal-Mart employee. That translates into a total annual welfare bill of $2.5 billion for Wal-Mart’s 1.2 million US employees.
“Wal-Mart is also a burden on state governments. According to a study by the Institute for Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2003 California taxpayers subsidized $20.5 million worth of medical care for Wal-Mart employees. In Georgia ten thousand children of Wal-Mart employees were enrolled in the state’s program for needy children in 2003, with one in four Wal-Mart employees having a child in the program.”
Hey, wait a minute: all those government programs that make Wal-Mart a “burden” on the taxpayers are benefits for low-income workers that “compassionate” liberals have enacted into state and federal laws! Tax credits for bottom-bracket earners–aren’t those supposed to be a good thing? Ditto for housing assistance and medical care for impoverished children? Aren’t these what liberals are supposed to want? Head and the House Democrats would apparently rather see hard-working poor families pay higher taxes and get thrown out onto the street. It’s a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose situation for Wal-Mart (which, by the way, pays in the form of its own corporate taxes for these very benefits that it’s being criticized for making necessary).
Here’s the deal with Wal-Mart: It’s in the retailing business. Entry-level retailing jobs–manning cash registers, shelving stock, and so forth, pay minimum wage. It has ever been so. I got minimum wage when I counted inventory over Christmas at a local department store when I was a teen-ager. Wal-Mart actually pays a little better than minimum–$8.50 an hour on average–but you can’t support a family on entry-level earnings (it’s why they’re called entry-level). That’s why job turnover is high at Wal-Mart, and why many of its employees are retired folks supplementing their Social Security payments (more of that Wal-Mart “burden” on the taxpayers). Wal-Mart has decided that the costs of constantly seeking out new employees are worth it–and it’s sure a source of jobs for those who desperately need them. I’ll let the lawyers sort out the alleged abuses.
This article from Fortune magazine about sums it up for Wal-Mart:
“Some of the allegations–and Wal-Mart was sued more than 6,000 times in 2002–certainly seem damning. Yet there’s an important piece of context: Wal-Mart employs 1.4 million people. That’s three times as many as the nation’s next biggest employer and 56 times as many as the average FORTUNE 500 company. Meaning that all things being equal, a bad event is 5,500% more likely to happen at Wal-Mart than at Borders….
“Another rap on Wal-Mart–that it stomps competitors to dust through sheer brute force–seems undeniable: Studies have indicated a decline in the life expectancy of local businesses after Wal-Mart moves in. But this morality play is missing some key characters–namely, you and me. The scene where we drop into Wal-Mart to pick up a case of Coke, for instance, has been conveniently cut. No small omission, since the main reason we can’t shop at Ed’s Variety Store anymore is that we stopped shopping at Ed’s Variety Store.”
So if you don’t like what Wal-Mart does, don’t go there. But tax credits for low-income earners are scarcely Wal-Mart’s fault.