December 21, 2004

Always Low Wages, Sojourners Magazine/February 2004

Where would Jesus shop? As much as I hate spin off's of an already cheeky bumper sticker (WWJD?) This one is worth talking about. So many products from countries other than the US sit on Wal-Mart's shelves - but are they destroying the American economy?
Always Low Wages: "Always Low Wages"

I don't shop at Wal-Mart - only partly because of their business practices. Target is easier, closer and in the case of my neighborhood, cleaner and having the appearance of "safer". Don't even start raising your eyebrows and muttering things about racism - I don't want to hear about it. When I drive to Target I am driving away from Downtown and toward homes with lower insurance rates - the exact opposite is true when I drive from my home toward Wal-mart. Crime reports don't lie, and I don't care who commits the crime - judgmental or not, its just a fact. Anecdotally, there is more often a squad car or three in front of Wal-mart than there is in front of Target in the area I live and work - so that is partially where the feeling of "safety" comes from.

Anyway - Wal-mart employees apparently don't make enough money to shop at Wal-mart. My question then has two parts - 1) Where do they shop? and 2) Why don't they go get jobs at Target? The free market has to work in all cases not just some. If Wal-mart doesn't pay competitive wages, then how to they keep a steady workforce? Either something about the Wal-mart culture is not being reported, and there are other reasons people continue to work there, or as I have long suspected - there are just a lot of really stupid people in the world and Wal-mart capitalizes on that fact.

I am not stating that there are tons of jobs available, but lets face it, working at Wal-mart doesn’t really require a myriad of job-skills. They have employees whose sole purpose is to stand at the door and smile. If they are only paying those people $7.50 an hour – what is stopping those people from standing behind the counter at say, McDonald’s with their smile? Again, it doesn’t require a lot of training to add “Do you want fries with that?” to their repertoire and for another $2.00 an hour and the ability to actually shop at Wal-mart, I’d say its worth it. I’d tell them to shop at Target though. I think its safer.


Bill said...

I was surprised that I had a signin here. I think the reason Walmart (and other low end employers for that matter) can still get employees is that there are so many needing multiple jobs to stay afloat today. That pool of people will diminish in the future as the number of people entering the job market declines. Our population, alone, cannot support the growth. Immigration holds the key, and the public's mood there is to limit it. Could we be building towards a crisis in filling these jobs which are a necessary part of an ever growing national economy? Or is this just another indication that 4% annual growth is not sustainable forever? Is this is kind of like the government and taxation? We can't give tax breaks to the middle class because they pay most of the taxes. I don't know, but it seems to me something is going wrong here. Another question this all raises, if I am right about people holding multiple jobs: What happens to the quality of life. Isn't all this work for better liesure time? Yet we, in America, work more and harder and longer than anywhere else on the planet? Why? I don't quite know.

Unknown said...

Just for the sake of continuing this - if working at Walmart is in fact a second or third job for the employees in question, then the statement that said employees of Walmart are unable to shop there, or unable to reach above what is called the "poverty line" is untrue. The US Dept of Health and Human Services lists the 2004 FPL (Federal Poverty Level) at $18,850 for a family of 4 in the contiguous 48 states.
To achieve this level of income, you would have to work 2,513.3 hours a year. Even giving the benefit of the doubt that workers at Walmart don't always see 40 hour weeks, at 30 hours a week, that works out to about 84 weeks. (At 40 hours a week, its 63 weeks.) So taking the pessimistic view, and knowing like I do that there are only 52 weeks in a year, that would mean a person would have to have 1.6 thirty hour a week jobs at $7.50 an hour to reach the FPL.
So that leads me back to my McDonald's example. After a couple months of not slapping any moron customer's at McDonald's, you could make $9.75 an hour. That works out to 1933.3 hours a year. At 30 hours a week, that's only 64.5 weeks. If you can get 40 hours a week, its only 48.3 weeks and you have a week and a half of vacation!

Keep in mind, that the above calculations assume that there is only one worker in this family of four. This works well for the single parent with three children scenario, but for a family of 4 with two working adults, (doubling the available hours) $7.50 an hour 30 hours a week puts them above the FPL - remember it was only 1.6 jobs per year at that rate, less than 2. See why I am not buying it?

So, again, what is keeping people working at Wal-Mart and holding down ANOTHER job, if that is the case?
I just found a part time work ad for the Three Rivers Park district doing light clerical work for $10.75 - $13.04 an hour. I don't even have to do that math on that one to tell you that a job at McDonalds 40 hours a week and that one as a second would put you well on your way to becoming a bona-fide Wal-Mart shopper.

I am not saying McDonald's in a viable alternative in all cases where a Wal-mart employee is undervalued by their employer. What I am saying is that the Market should correct this disparity - Wal-mart has to be doing something to keep people working there besides compensating them appropriately. That's maybe where their shady business practices need to have a bright light shone. I just don't buy the "I have to work at Wal-mart, its the only job I could find" scenario.

Paschal Baute said...

I like commentary that asks me to think again
about ordinary, taken for granted STUFF, when I
find time to do it.
Keep it up.