Mean-Mart - Island of Sanity

Island of Sanity

Policy Issues


Liberals have launched something of a crusade againt Wal-Mart. They charge that Wal-Mart doesn't pay its employees enough and doesn't provide good enough benefits. Just type "Wal-Mart low wages" into an Internet search engine and you'll find plenty of articles critical of Wal-Mart, many calling for the government to make laws or regulations forcing Wal-Mart to increase its employee compensation. At least one member of Congress, George Miller (D-CA), is on board. He had government officials produce a report blasting Wal-Mart and calling for legislation.

Why is this a political question? Why are people protesting and creating websites and pushing for laws? If you don't think the jobs Wal-Mart has to offer are good enough, then don't apply for a job there. If you don't work there, then why is it any of your business anyway?

If people were being kidnapped and forced to work for Wal-Mart, there would be cause for the government to send in the police to rescue them. But no one is forced to work at Wal-Mart. Quite the contrary, people clamor for the opportunity. In early 2006 Wal-Mart announced plans to open a store in Evergreen Park, near Chicago, and 25,000 people applied for the 325 jobs that would be created. The local Wal-Mart manager said that this was unexpected: Normally Wal-Mart only gets about 10 applicants for each job.

But the activists insist that those 25,000 people -- and presumably the other 1.5 MILLION people who work for Wal-Mart -- are fools for accepting such low-paying jobs. And so they want to protect these people from themselves by taking their jobs away.

Make no mistake: If the activists succeed in forcing Wal-Mart to pay higher salaries and pay more in benefits, the obvious and inevitable result is that some employees will get a raise -- and hundreds of thousands of others will lose their jobs. Neither Wal-Mart nor the government can create the money to pay people out of thin air. Like any other business, Wal-Mart pays its employees from the profits on its sales. They can't afford to pay their employees more than they collect in sales.

I wouldn't want to take a job as a clerk at Wal-Mart today. But I'm middle-aged and have marketable professional and technical skills. When I was a teenager, like many teenagers I had jobs delivering news papers and mowing lawns. My first office job was running errands and filing papers. These jobs didn't pay well and certainly weren't a lot of fun. But they gave me a start. It used to be understood that you don't start at the top: you have to work your way up. Sometimes older or more experienced people are happy to take low-paying jobs because they're not looking for a career: they're just looking for a temporary job to make a few extra bucks to handle an unexpected expense, or maybe just to pay for Christmas presents.

The position of the activists is that it should be against the law for anyone to work at a job that a Hollywood celebrity or a member of Congress wouldn't be willing to take. They want to make it a crime for a company to provide jobs to young, unskilled people.

And by the way, young people with few marketable skills are more likely to be minorities. So the people who will be hurt the most by the anti-Wal-Mart crusaders may well be young black people. Does that make these activists racists?

© 2006 by Jay Johansen


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