Walmart has raised wages for its workers to a minimum of $9 per hour, with a minimum of $10 per hour beginning in 2016. This equals a massive 37% raise for those currently making the U.S. federal minimum wage, which raise isn’t so massive when you realize it just means for every 5 hours they stand in a check out line scanning toilet paper and Dunkaroos like a zombie, Walmart cashiers get a bonus equivalent to the price of a Chipotle burrito.
Many are arguing that Walmart rose wages not because of good will or public backlash, but because market conditions forced them to. Basically, once people had the option of working anywhere other than Walmart, they got the hell out of Walmart:
By raising wages and providing more opportunities for advancement and better schedules, the company can improve employee morale and attract higher caliber workers. Walmart says it has tested different programs in its stores and believes it has landed on the right mix of better pay and training.
The retailer is also counting on the changes to quickly improve the shopping experience at its stores, which most surveys show is getting worse. One released Wednesday by the American Customer Satisfaction Index gave Walmart its lowest rating since 2007.
But regardless of why Walmart raised wages, this is still good news. We should all welcome hard working people getting more money. Well, semi-hard working. Walmart employees work harder than they should given how little they are paid, but being honest a lot of them are lazy and high most of the time. That’s nothing against them, but writers often overpraise low wage workers despite no one ever walking into Walmart and thinking, “Man, this place is a well-oiled machine! Have the Chicago Bears considered scouting Larry the stock boy, because he has a serious motor on him!”
But you do have to give Walmart employees credit for getting up and going to work every day, because I’m not sure any of us could raise a family on $10 per hour. But many of them manage to raise a family on minimum wage.
How do they do it? A big help is that the rest of us pay for them. Walmart workers receive government assistance to the tune of $6.2 billion through food stamps, Medicaid, and subsidizing housing. And that doesn’t even include all of the other stuff high earning tax payers foot the bill for. Whether its defense, federal funding for roads and bridges, research, or education, the truth of the matter is that Walmart employees aren’t making enough cash to pay for any of it. The rich and upper middle class puts food in the belly of the minimum wage workers, educates them, and paves the roads they take to work – just so they can stock shelves full of Doritios and phone chargersf in order to add to the Walton family’s $144 billion fortune.
But perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that the Walton’s have so much control of Walmart. Simply put, they have become the ones to blame, the ones to be embarrassed by the paying of such low wages. Upon announcement of the raise, Walmart’s stock dropped 3%. This means that investors felt the company would have been more profitable continuing to pay its employees the per hour wage of what it costs to buy a popcorn at the movies.
If Walmart only had faceless investors, a pay raise at the expense of profits may have gained no traction. When a company is owned by an amalgam of insurance companies and hedge funds, which are in turn owned by millions of people’s retirement plans, no one feels any shame in reaping in billions while the company’s employees literally cannot afford food for their children.
This corporate model has allowed America to make great strides, but it’s faceless nature allows companies to exploit workers. It used to be that business owners lived in the same community as their employees. If a person owned a wildly successful drug store and accumulated a great amount of wealth, his reputation would suffer if it was known that he lived in a mansion while his employees lived in newspaper shanties. More importantly, the owner would be in such close contact with his employees that his conscience would never allow him to let his employees, the people he interacts with every day, live in poverty. He would take pride in providing good jobs for the people he saw every day, and he would be embarrassed if he was known in the town for living large while paying low wages.
But most corporations don’t feel that kind of pressure from investors, because they don’t know or care about “their” employees. Investors get a statement on revenues, costs, profits, and future plans. But they don’t open up the annual report and learn that Carl, the janitor, can’t afford his insulin so he has to regulate his blood sugar by alternating eating Goobers and Elmer’s Glue. Or that the night cashier can’t afford to take the bus, so at 3:30 am she walks 4.5 miles through the snow to buy cat food to feed to her cancer stricken grandmother.
That’s why it likely made a difference that three Walton’s are on Wal-Mart’s board of directors. They knew that their brand had become the face of underpaid, poor workers in America. And they wanted to remake their image at the expense of money – because to them it’s probably better to have $142 billion and read good articles about themselves on the internet then have $144 billion and read that you’re exactly what’s wrong with America. Think of how difficult it would be going on a Tinder date if when the girl googled your name, a thousand articles on impoverished workers showed up.
But to truly end poverty, we need to realize that as long as the corporate model endures, we are all the Waltons. At some point we will all have 401ks or own stocks. We’ll likely be “owners” of companies like Apple, Nike, and McDonald’s. But when “our” employee Zhang Jing is working in such oppressive conditions at the iPhone factory that she tries to jump to her death – because ending her life is a better option than continuing to work for us in our factory, we won’t feel any responsibility. We won’t give a shit about Zhang Jing, we won’t see ourselves as her employer, and she won’t be our problem.
But when they install a suicide net to force her to keep working, and profits rise, we will have no problem giving the CEO a raise for putting a little more money in our pocket .