This photo has been making the rounds on the internet, sparking both criticism and ridicule. It shows bins at a Canton, Ohio Wal-Mart put out by management with a sign asking: “Please donate food items here so Associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner.” The photo went viral for a simple reason: it captures perfectly the fact that Wal-Mart associates earn so little that many will struggle to put dinner on their table this Thanksgiving — and management knows it!
Most of Wal-Mart’s hourly employees make less than $25,000 per year. This statistic makes sense since Wal-Mart typically pays entry level employees $8.00 per hour, which is just above minimum wage. Even after six years, an individual employed by Wal-Mart can only expect to be paid $10.60 per hour.
Given the low wages paid by Wal-Mart, it is not too surprising that many of its employees have to turn to state and federal aid programs in order to make ends meet. According to a report by Congressional Democrats released in June 2013 (discussed in this Mother Jones article), many Wal-Mart employees receive government aid, which costs taxpayers between $900,000 and $1.75 million per store, per year. Taxpayers in California, alone, are spending $86 million each year to provide healthcare and other public assistance to the state’s 44,000 Wal-Mart employees, at a cost of about $2,000 per worker.
Even Wal-Mart seems to recognize that its employees can’t live on the wages that the company pays and must rely on public assistance (and charity). Back in 2005, the New York Times reported that Wal-Mart’s executive vice president for benefits sent the board of directors an internal memo stating that “Wal-Mart has a significant percentage of associates and their children on public assistance.” But Wal-Mart has taken an unapologetic stance. With respect to the food drive pictured above, Wal-Mart representatives have said that it is proof of its efforts to take care of its employees!
Why has so much attention been focused on a single corporation? Perhaps it is because Wal-Mart is larger than Home Deport, Kroger, Target, Sears, Costco and K-Mart, combined? Perhaps it is because of the low-wages that workers earn while Wal-Mart’s CEO makes more in an hour than a full-time worker makes in an entire year? Whatever the reasons, Wal-Mart, as the nation’s largest employer, has become a symbol of the problems plaguing workers who work full time, yet don’t make enough money to make ends meet.
In the coming days, as Americans prepare for — and recover from — their Thanksgiving feasts, we should not only give thanks for what our families have, but make a commitment to helping other families who have far less. Real help requires more than just a few spare canned goods thrown into a bin. It requires that we address the reasons that our nation’s workers are in need. We should applaud Governor Jerry Brown for signing into law AB 10, a bill that will increase the minimum wage in California to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour in 2016. And, we should lobby Congress to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which would increase the federal minimum wage for all workers, including those at Wal-Mart, to $10.10 by 2015. Such legislation could help in ensuring that all workers can afford a Thanksgiving feast, without relying upon the kindness of their co-workers.
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