The Wal-Mart haters are at it again. The token lefty at Forbes.com, Rick Ungar, has a piece on that site accusing the nation’s largest private employer of amassing huge profits at the expense of American taxpayers. Citing a report issued by the Wisconsin Medicaid program, Ungar claims that for every 300 employee Wal-Mart Supercenter store in Wisconsin alone the company’s “sub-poverty” level wages costs American taxpayers about $904,000 per year. The total is the result of government subsidized health care and housing, and food stamp payments needed to keep families afloat financially.
It’s the same tired old story with a new twist – not only does Wal-Mart harm its workers, but it is a financial burden to taxpayers as well. What’s even more alarming is that California and other states are considering fining employers like Wal-Mart up to $6000 for every employee of theirs that ends up on state subsidized health care plans.
In the first place and at the foundation of the issue is the fact that no one is forced to work for Wal-Mart and accept the company’s so-called “sub-poverty” wage. The last time I checked the 13th Amendment to the Constitution banned slavery and involuntary servitude. If workers don’t like the wages they receive or can’t make ends meet working at Wal-Mart, they can look for work with another employer.
But many do not and thus we have the crux of the problem. Retail jobs require few if any advanced skills and they certainly do not require a college degree. Thus, they don’t pay very well. Traditionally, they have been ideal starting positions for young folks to give them work experience and gas money. I remember applying for my first job with a family pharmacy when I was 16. The toughest question I encountered during the interview was, what is the final price of an $.89 box of cough drops if the sale price for the day is 10 percent off? And today, retail clerks have it even easier as all they have to do is pass the item over a scanner to get the final price. The bottom line is that retail positions are not made for folks who are supporting families or have adult commitments. Customarily, folks with these responsibilities have turned to manufacturing and professional jobs.
However, the great irony is that the myriad federal and state regulations which were meant to benefit workers have actually hurt them more by chasing jobs overseas to lower cost venues. Since 1979, when manufacturing jobs in America peaked at 19.5 million, we have lost close to half of them to overseas competition. Currently, about 11.5 million Americans work in manufacturing jobs which is the lowest amount since 1941. Now, with far fewer manufacturing jobs for workers to turn to, the same folks who gave us this condition are demanding that retailers raise their wages so workers can meet their financial responsibilities. But, it doesn’t work that way. In our economic system, Wal-Mart pays wages based on what the market will bear. Instituting a higher minimum wage or mandating that retail companies provide health care coverage for their employees will cause more unemployment and hurt the very people those directives were meant to help. We are already seeing Wal-Mart and other companies gearing up for Obamacare by cutting employee hours to circumvent the law.
In the final analysis, hasn’t government intervention in our economy done enough harm already? Besides obliterating our industrial base through enormously costly regulations, the Federal Reserve has destroyed the purchasing power of the dollar by monetizing huge sums of federal debt and expanding the money supply ad infinitum . The very commodities that the working class spends so much of their disposable income on – health care, housing, and food are the very things that have increased in price the most. More federal and state mandates will only make the matter worse. We need a return to free markets and sound money. Folks literate in economic theory understand this.
Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina