A fictional presidential candidate in “House of Cards” gives this rousing campaign speech about Wal-Mart:
“The starting salary for an employee at Walmart is below the poverty line. [crowd groans, boos]
“Now, the American government subsidizes Walmart to the tune of $US7.8 billion a year by issuing food stamps to over one in ten of its workers. But here’s the scary part. Fifteen per cent of all food stamps are actually used at Walmart. Meaning Walmart gets to double dip into the federal government’s coffers. [crowd booing]
“I’m as angry about it as you are. Because Walmart’s top executives have reaped almost 300 million in tax-deductible performance pay over the last six years. That needs to stop! [cheering]
“We need to raise the minimum wage! [cheering] Cut down on corporate greed by regulating bonuses! [cheering] It’s time to balance the scales.”
While the show is fictional, the facts are real and come largely from a 2014 report from Americans For Tax Fairness.
Wal-Mart’s average full-time sales associate makes less than $US16,000 a year, well below the federal poverty line for a family of four.
It is also true that the store is “double-dipping” when it comes to government benefits — in 2014, Wal-Mart collected roughly $US13.5 billion in food stamp sales alone.
The total cost to taxpayers of Wal-Mart’s low wages and benefits, which force many workers to rely on public assistance programs, has been estimated at around $US4,415 per worker, according to one federal study.
The store, which is owned by America’s richest family, hauled in $US16.4 billion in net income last year. In 2010, Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke was paid $US18.7 million — 1,201 times the annual income of the average Wal-Mart employee.
Earlier this month, Wal-Mart announced it would increase its minimum pay to $US9 an hour in April and $US10 an hour by February 2016. Still, this is less than a living wage, especially if you’re a part-time employee — which half of Wal-Mart’s employees are. Most work fewer than 30 hours per week, and those who request at least 40 are usually denied.
While Wal-Mart’s wage bump is a good sign, some think it does not go far enough.
“When compared to the $US16 billion in profit that the company rakes in annually,” Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, told the New York Times, “Wal-Mart’s promise of $US10 an hour — which even for a full-time worker is not enough to keep a family of four out of poverty — is meager.”
But don’t expect any major presidential candidate to take on America’s largest private employer like you see on Netflix.
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