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The truth about Walmart wages


Walmart has been on something of a charm offensive where the public is concerned (and anintimidation offensive where its workers are concerned), hoping to blunt the impact of the Black Friday rebellion. Walmart’s big claim is that its wages are really quite good, if you happen to be a full-time worker there, anyway. The reality?

A 2005 study from New York University found that Walmart employees earn 28 percent less, on average, than workers employed by other large retailers. At the same time, Walmart’s sheer size and competitive influence exert a downward pressure on wages at other retailers. A study from the University of California Berkeley finds that Walmart store openings in communities lead to the replacement of better paying jobs with jobs that pay less. As a result of this dynamic, average wages for retail workers were 10 percent lower, and their job-based health coverage rate was 5 percentage points less in an area than it would be if Walmart did not exist. The study concludes that in 2000,retail employees nationwide would have taken home $4.5 billion more in their total paycheck if Walmart had not been around.

So Walmart isn’t just lousy for its own workers, it makes it worse for all retail workers. That’s one reason it’s significant that when Walmart is trying to brag about its wages, the claim is that the average pay for a full-time worker is $12.40 an hour. That’s just under $26,000 for a year of full-time work, which is below the median wage for an individual. And Walmart is trying to define that in the popular imagination as a good wage.

Part of the way Walmart makes less than $26,000 for a year of full-time work look good, of course, is to deny many of its workers full-time work. Oh, and it pays those workers who’d like to work full-time but don’t have that option even less per hour than the lucky, lucky full-time workers. And since they’re expected to be available whenever they’re called in to work, good luck managing to hold a second crappy part-time job.

Everything Walmart does around wages—from its low starting wages to its huge part-time workforce to its tightly restricted system of raises and promotions to its very claims to being a good employer—is about taking the next step in the race to the bottom, breaking down its workers and making them desperate, driving down the public’s understanding of what exactly a good job is. It’s time to fight back. Find a Black Friday event near you in the widget at the right.

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