A half century ago America’s largest private-sector employer was General Motors, whose full-time workers earned an average hourly wage of around $50, in today’s dollars, including health and pension benefits.
Today, America’s largest employer is Walmart, whose average employee earns $8.81 an hour. A third of Walmart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits.
There are many reasons for the difference – including globalization and technological changes that have shrunk employment in American manufacturing while enlarging it in sectors involving personal services, such as retail.
But one reason, closely related to this seismic shift, is the decline of labor unions in the United States. In the 1950s, over a third of private-sector workers belonged to a union. Today fewer than 7 percent do. As a result, the typical American worker no longer has the bargaining clout to get a sizeable share of corporate profits.
Walmart earned $16 billion last year (it just reported a 9 percent increase in earnings in the third quarter of 2012, to $3.6 billion), the lion’s share of which went instead to Walmart’s shareholders — including the family of its founder, Sam Walton, who earned on their Walmart stock more than the combined earnings of the bottom 40 percent of American workers.
Is this about to change? Despite decades of failed unionization attempts, Walmart workers are planning to strike or conduct some other form of protest outside at least 1,000 locations across the United States this Friday – so-called “Black Friday,” the biggest shopping day in America when the Christmas holiday buying season begins.
But if retail workers got a raise, would consumers have to pay higher prices to make up for it? A new study by the think tank Demos reports that raising the salary of all full-time workers at large retailers to $25,000 per year would lift more than 700,000 people out of poverty, at a cost of only a 1 percent price increase for customers.
And, in the end, retailers would benefit. According to the study, the cost of the wage increases to major retailers would be $20.8 billion — about one percent of the sector’s $2.17 trillion in total annual sales. But the study also estimates the increased purchasing power of lower-wage workers as a result of the pay raises would generate $4 billion to $5 billion in additional retail sales.
changewalmart: From ArtistsVsWalmart.Tumblr.com
Walmart’s employees aren’t compensated with a living wage or benefits, so we — the taxpayers — pick up the tab for what their greedy owners won’t pay for: food, shelter, medical care, etc.
This situation has worked out really well for CEO Michael Duke, upper management, and the Walton children for decades — but it hasn’t worked out so great for the rest of us.
What’s wrong with America? Walmart ethics.