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Why Taxpayers Should Support the Protests for Higher Wages at Walmart

Pamela Cataldo

Walmart employees and their supporters have planned national protests today to demand an increase of their wages. Here is why the average American should support the workers’ demands.

Over the past decade, Walmart's enjoyed record profits. Four members of the Walton family have a higher net worth than the entire Walmart workforce. A statistic made worse by the fact that Wal-Mart employs 10% of the retail work-force—about 1.4 million employees in the U.S.

The average wage of a Walmart employee is $8.81 per hour, according to independent statistics provided by Glassdoor. In order to further cut wages, Walmart keeps the majority of their employees at part-time hours. The hourly-part-time employees do not have access to the benefits available to the full-time employees, thus saving Walmart big bucks. According to a Walmart Internal Compensation document, the maximum raise an hourly employee can accomplish per year is 60 cents. But, the hourly positions also hit a wage cap. An employee who had worked at a store for half of her life (25 years) had reached the maximum pay for her position as an associate: Just $19.53 an hour.

When employees cannot afford to make ends meet, unfortunately not uncommon due to their wages, they are forced to enroll in public assistance programs in order to supplement their income. According to the Department of Agriculture, in 2011 over 30% of households receiving SNAP benefits earned a salary. During my travels as a field investigator, I have met many SNAP and Medicaid recipients who have low-wage jobs, many of them also employees of Walmart. The most common complaint I hear from the recipients is, “I just don’t make enough."

A 2013 update to the report “Everyday Low Wages: The Hidden Price We All Pay for Wal-Mart” prepared by the Democratic staff of the U.S House Committee on Education and the Workforce assesses how much Walmart costs taxpayers. From the report:

Accurate and timely data on Wal-Mart’s wage and employment practices is not always readily available. However, occasional releases of demographic data from public assistance programs can provide useful windows into the scope of taxpayer subsidization of Wal-Mart. After analyzing data released by Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce estimates that a single 300-person Wal-Mart Supercenter store in Wisconsin likely costs taxpayers at least $904,542 per year and could cost tax payers up to $1,744,590 per year – about $5,815 per employee

If we multiply that sum by the number of Walmart Supercenters in the country or by the number of low-wage part-time employees, the total cost to taxpayers becomes staggering.

The backlash against providing public assistance, often fueled by exaggerations of instances of welfare fraud, is ever-growing. But instead of feeling cheated by the recipients, we should direct our indignation towards companies that register record profits while taxpayers are forced to supplement the incomes of their under-paid employees.

So today, when Walmart employees are walking off of their jobs around the country demanding higher wages, let’s support them and expand the call for a living wage. Let’s also ask ourselves, should we continue to subsidize one of the wealthiest companies in the country?