DMI Blog

Andrea Batista Schlesinger

High-flying Wal-Mart

planecrash"It's almost like the joke about three guys walking into a bar. Except it's not funny. A small plane crashed into a Wal-Mart this morning.

Really. While the pilot unfortunately sustained serious injuries, it was lucky for Wal-Mart that none of their employees were hurt. And it was especially lucky for those employees.

The average annual wage of Wal-Mart sales associates is $14,967, almost $8,000 less than the national average for those jobs in the retail industry. The 2005 federal poverty level for a family of three is $16,090. (For all these stats and more, please click here for the Brennan Center's excellent overview) That's right: the average Wal-Mart worker qualifies for food stamps. So they wouldn't have much in the bank account to cover their health care costs, and with less than half of Wal-Mart employees actually covered by health insurance, chances are these people would either be a) screwed or b) Medicaid's problem. And when they are Medicaid's problem, they are the American taxpayer's problem. Little does the public know their taxes were really a subsidy for Wal-Mart to avoid responsible business practices?

Some think that any critique of Wal-Mart is lefty anti-capitalism. Ryan Sager, a columnist over at the New York Post, is one of them. He'll get the picture eventually. You see, taking on Wal-Mart's irresponsible health and employment practices is the province of anyone who cares about fairness and smart economics.

I was talking with a major Republican pollster just last week about Wal-Mart. He was fed up with using Medicaid to subsidize their workers, fed up with their impact on small businesses, fed up with Wal-Mart making every other nation rich but our own. Since his business is taking the temperature of the American people to advance the agenda of the Republican Party, I can't help believing he's not alone.

Mr. Sager may believe that

"Businesses close all the time -- just as trees fall in the woods, making room for new, younger, stronger growth. And as prices fall, everyone's quality of life improves as it becomes easier and easier to afford life's daily essentials."

(Ah, a paragraph Walt Whitman would be proud of.) But what he forgets is that lower prices don't matter if people still can't afford them, that it isn't growth when the American middle-class is paying for the health care of 1.2 million people so that Wal-Mart can keep them poor, and that the closing of small businesses who can't compete with the heavy subsidies given to Wal-Mart franchise isn't romantic, it's unfair to American taxpayers. Some trees are getting a lot of help in that supposedly free market forest, Ryan, with the rest of us left to pay the bill for the Miracle-Gro.

Andrea Batista Schlesinger: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 4:20 PM, Nov 08, 2005 in Economy | Employment | Health Care | Labor | Middle-class squeeze | Progressive Agenda | Welfare
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