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Walmart Halts Expansion Plans Over DC ‘Living Wage’ Vote

Walmart, the retailer America loves to hate, is waiting to see whether Washington, DC Mayor Vincent Gray vetoes a “living wage” bill to determine whether it will continue with plans to start three new stores.

When Washington, DC’s Council approved the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), it drew a major line in the sand with Walmart. The bill requires that “large” retailers like Walmart pay workers at least $12.50 per hour, a “living wage”, despite the fact that the district’s minimum wage is $8.25.

As a result, Walmart predictability halted plans for three new stores in the nation’s capitol. It might also affect affect the future of three other stores already under construction. If Mayor Gray vetoes the bill, Walmart may consider resuming those plans, ABC News reports.

According to the article, the average wage for a full-time hourly Walmart employee is $12.57, pennies above the LRAA’s target living wage. But part-time workers often make closer to minimum wage, more than four bucks below.

Back in April, The New York Times reported that prior to the recession, back in 2007, it hired an average of 338 employees per store at its various US locations. Since the recession, it now employs an average of 281 per store.

To be honest, 281 employees per store sounds very high to me. But let’s run with it.

If we figure that an average store hires 281 people, and that six stores are now in jeopardy because of this wage, 1,686 jobs hang in the balance.

But that’s just for starters.

Since you almost never find a shopping center with a Walmart and nothing else tagging along for the ride on that real estate, the loss of the stores also means the potential loss of other jobs at other stores that would have shared the same parking lot to ride Walmart’s coattails.

Even if we stick with the 1,686 number and ignore any collateral damage, let’s assume that a third of that number would be full-time employees. That’s 562 people who, based on estimates, would now at least be making a wage equalling about $25,000 per year. That’s not a lot of money compared to other jobs, but it’s a heck of a lot of money compared to being unemployed.

But the federal poverty line is currently set at $23,050. A full-time employee earning $8.25 — Washington, DC’s minimum wage — only earns $17,160. Why isn’t the minimum wage itself a living wage?

I encourage you to set aside your personal gripes with Walmart for a moment.

What gives the government the right to decide that Walmart (or anyone else) makes “too much money” and therefore should have to pay more than the minimum wage? Put yourself in the place of the business owner: how would you like the government to tell you that you don’t pay enough even if you pay what the law demands?

What’s the criteria in terms of how much profit is too much? Where’s the line at which success for some means having to pay more than success for everyone else? And why isn’t that line, wherever it is, part of the minimum wage law itself?

It’s sad to report that the federal minimum wage is only $7.25. At 40 hours per week, that totals $15,080. DC, along with 18 states, has a local minimum wage above that federal limit. My home state of South Carolina has its minimum wage set at the federal level.

The real question comes down to this: if a major retailer is attempting to set up shop in your community and potentially bring more jobs there, why shut them out at all? Even if what they pay isn’t as much as you think they should pay, until you have 0% unemployment (at least, among those people who actually are willing to work), why turn away jobs? No one who takes a job with Walmart, or any other big retailer, for that matter, has to stay there forever. They can always move on to a better, higher-paying job when the right opportunity comes along.

At least, in the meantime, they’re earning something.

5 Comments

  1. patricksplaceDianaCTThere are no easy answers.

    In order to get SNAP assistance you must…
    Generally ABAWDS between 18 and 50 who do not have any
    dependent children can get SNAP benefits only for 3 months in a 36-month period
    if they do not work or participate in a workfare or employment and training
    program other than job search. This requirement is waived in some locations.
    In other words you need to
    be employed or in a training program (college doesn’t count). TANF has pretty much the same requirements.
    When I was interning for my Masters in Social Work I worked
    with a client who is was a nurse’s aide at a nursing home, and quit her job so she could go back to
    college to get her RN degree. Her sister and brother-in-law were killed in a
    car crash and she became the guardian of their two children. The children were eligible
    for SNAP if she went back to college but it wasn’t enough for them to live off
    so she dropped out of college and went back to the nursing home to work. She also
    took a job two hours a night as a janitor (for a total of 60 hrs. a week between the two jobs) and
    when the kids got out of school or during the summer they stayed with relatives while she worked.
    If she had a living wage she could go back to school at
    nights instead of working and get her RN degree.
    My answer raise the upper tax brackets and use the money for
    the “safety net programs.” In some of the proposed budgets programs like
    Headstart and WIC have but zeroed out.

  2. DianaCT But here’s the problem: if there are people making no income because they’re unemployed, isn’t a job that pays something (even a low amount) better than no job? The employees who need Walmart’s salary to put food on the table may well require assistance from the government. But wouldn’t they require LESS assistance if they have that job than if they aren’t able to find work at all?

  3. The other thing to consider is the cost to the community
    when a business does not pay a living wage. We are really subsidizing each
    Walmart store. When a company does not pay their employees enough to live
    without public support what the company is using government to make up the
    difference between a living wage and what they pay.
    There is an article in Mother Jones (I admit that it and the
    study they report on are not unbiased) that reports on a Democratic study on
    the cost of a Walmart store has on the community. Their article (http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/06/report-walmart-forces-employees-dole-taxpayers)
    said,
    “Walmart’s wages and benefits are so low that many of its
    employees are forced to turn to the government for aid, costing taxpayers
    between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, according to a report released
    last week by congressional Democrats.”

  4. bjonesnDC Well, they’re definitely better off pulling out. People who need jobs, on the other hand, aren’t necessarily better off.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.