$90 Billion And Counting For Walmart’s First Family

I don’t know how successful the strike against Walmart will be this week, but if you want to support the efforts of workers to get a living wage and benefits from the retailing giant, then stay away from the store on Black Friday, which, unbelievably, actually starts this year on Thanksgiving evening.

You can also make a contribution to help striking workers by going here.

I captured this shot from MSNBC last night:

Think about that for a minute, then think about the fact that thousands upon thousands of Walmart workers who work full-time (by Walmart’s definition of 34 hours per week) don’t make enough to surmount the poverty line. And think about the thousands upon thousands of Walmart workers who need public assistance—taxpayer money—just to survive.

Making Change At Walmart puts the Walton family wealth in a different light:

  • Let’s put it this way, according to Forbes’ list of the most valuable sports franchises, the Walton heirs could afford to buy every major league baseball team, every NBA team, every NHL team and every NFL team, and still have money left over to buy some of the most valuable soccer teams in the world.
  • To put it yet another way, according to a recent Time article, the net worth of the average American household is $319,970. Multiply that by 2,797,137 and you have the Walton heirs’ wealth.

It’s not that the Walton family is wealthy beyond most people’s imagination. That’s not it at all. It’s how they got wealthy beyond most people’s imagination: partly on the backs of Walmart’s workers.

And now some of those workers are saying enough is enough. Let’s join them this week.

10 Comments

  1. This post caused me to wonder if Walmart, because of its dominance, is a monopoly. It isn’t, because it does have competition like Target for example. Still, it is the 800 pound gorilla of retailing and it is clearly leveraging its success on the backs of its employees, its largest cost of doing business. If those cost savings were mostly plowed back into the business model to produce further cost savings, it would be a different matter, but the Walton family wealth indicates that an outrageous amount is flowing to ownership. What, besides buying up famous art and building a world-class art gallery, can anyone do with that kind of money? That their money equals the net worth of the lower 41% of all U.S. citizens boggles the mind.

    I found a good discussion of Walmart’s situation from the Wharton school. In discussing whether Walmart might be squelching competition like Microsoft, it said this:

    So far Wal-Mart has avoided the Microsoft experience, Zandi says. “There is a sense that Microsoft is squelching innovation and charging significantly higher prices than they should. This is why Microsoft is on the Justice Department’s radar and Wal-Mart is not … As long as prices are falling it would be hard for the Justice Department to argue that they are abusing market power and heft.” It’s important “not to lose sight of the fact that a lot of people benefit from Wal-Mart,” adds Hoopes.

    The article sums up like this:

    Hoch praises Wal-Mart for avoiding the destructive cycle that’s referred to in business schools as “the wheel of retailing.” In the wheel of retailing, a retail company is successful with a strategy and grows big and builds its shopper base. Competitors copy it, improve upon it and eventually do a better job. “Once you get too big you forget who you are and you get bloated and somebody can come up beneath you and beat you at your own game,” Hoch says. But Wal-Mart has avoided that because “they are not just about being big.”

    Sam Walton’s business model has succeeded beyond all expectations, but clearly the controlling Walton family members don’t seem to feel any national obligation because of their success, and that’s a shame. The way they are treating their employees is a cautionary tale of just how far management is willing to push for a competitive edge – with some kind of union push-back, there is virtually no limit. Their successful business engine has no speed governor and that, in my opinion, is a strong argument for government regulation of employees rights and benefits, including a public-option for healthcare.

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  2. Jane Reaction

     /  November 22, 2012

    @ Jim: The Every Day Low Wages employees enable the firms success, along with near-monopoly pricing. The Walton heirs may as well be from another planet as far as most people are concerned.

    The DOJ anti-trust department’s last case was Microsoft. Technology, cheap ocean transportation, and unfettered mergers and acquisitions have eliminated millions of white-collar workers and self-employed professionals.

    @ Duane: Enjoyed this. Interesting how MSN titled theie graphic “income inequality” when it was about net worth. On “family worth” the gap is $90 billion to $320 thousand dollars.

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  3. Sedate Me

     /  November 23, 2012

    The list of damage China-Mart has directly and indirectly caused America is thicker than a phone book. They’ve helped gut working-to-middle class America. China-Mart’s gain is America’s loss.

    All of this money that’s gone to the Walton family, but have ANY of them done ANYTHING to actually “deserve” ANY of it? Of course nobody actually deserves that kind of money. I was just wondering if any of them have even contributed to running the business in any way, as opposed to just inheriting it.

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  4. Well in general I agree but most of the problems stated in the video would be found at any workplace. I’ll have to agree with the wal mart managers that call the employees “stupid” because that’s what they are for working at a place where they can’t make enough money to survive. If the workers were bright enough to say “no” to the poor pay and abbreviated work weeks, management would have to step up their game. I know that’s what the point of the video is but the vast majority of employees are just too stupid to “stand up.” It’s not wal mart’s fault, it’s the fault of the employees that put up with it. Wal Mart, like any other corporation, is going to pay its workforce as little as it can get by with.

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    • @ Rawhead,

      Macroscopically, you would be right. Workers should not be “stupid” enough to work for so little as Walmart pays. But the reality is that they aren’t really “stupid”, they simply don’t have viable alternatives in this increasingly-service economy. Sure, a few people are able to boot-strap themselves up educationally. Re-training is a option for some. But for the majority, those things simply aren’t practical options. Education is a cumulative and iterative process, one that can’t be recovered by someone who missed critical steps along the way. And, half of all people are of below-average intelligent and talent. That’s not meant as a put-down, but a statement of reality. Demeaning people with lesser talents and drive is common in the moneyed class, but it’s not a healthy attitude for a civilized society and I think the GOP is beginning to come to grips with that.

      So, what’s the answer? We as a nation need to decide, cumulatively, what kind of society we want to be and enact laws and regulations accordingly, things like the minimum wage and unemployment “insurance”. The Presidential results of the last election are a good start. And when you say,

      “Wal Mart, like any other corporation, is going to pay its workforce as little as it can get by with.”

      , that’s as good an argument for unions as I’ve heard lately.

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      • We appear to be in agreement that Wal Mart workers aren’t the brightest bunch. Agreed also that there’s really nowhere else for these people to go, since Wal Mart drove the majority of their serious competition in smaller markets out of business years ago.

        Unions would be fine, except they wind up driving the cost of American labor out of the market. Wal Mart, of course, doesn’t have the option of cheap Chinese labor for their workforce so they’ve developed effective methods of controlling labor costs. I don’t see legislation successfully forcing morals on corporations any time soon.

        Anyway, I think the people in the video are going off on too many tangents instead of focusing on the real problems of low pay and abbreviated work week. Disrespected by management? That has never happened before! Favoritism? THAT only happens at Wal Mart! Focus!

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  5. Demeaning people with lesser talents and drive is common in the moneyed class, but it’s not a healthy attitude for a civilized society and I think the GOP is beginning to come to grips with that.

    I think this a really important point. Someone’s worth shouldn’t be measured just by their ability to make money, and do what’s best for themselves.

    Even is someone is unmotivated or even lazy, doesn’t make them worse than someone who is a hard worker, but cruel, and selfish.

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    • Bruce,

      Excellent. Working hard is generally what makes America work at all. And the vast majority of Americans work pretty damn hard, particularly those without marketable skills.

      We tend to overvalue the accumulation of wealth in this country, perhaps because wealth seems to represent effort. But, of course, it doesn’t always, or maybe it doesn’t in most cases.

      My dad, for instance, was a union cloth-cutter, who by all accounts was very good at his job and in fact was replaced by two people when he had to retire because of a heart attack. He never accumulated much, primarily because he wasn’t paid very well— the garment business had been under stress for years—and if it weren’t for Social Security and Medicare he would not have lived as long as he did after his heart problems and stroke.

      That’s why it is particularly offensive to me to hear people, like Mitt Romney did, put down folks who depend on government, we the people, to help them get by, especially after they have worked hard all their lives and contributed to our national well-being.

      Duane

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    • Failure is in the eye of the beholder. All past efforts to organize Walmart have failed to gain much traction and this latest one may fail too. But it is much too early to make that determination, as no one expected one Black Friday action to do the trick and bring the Waltons to their knees. What organizers hope is that this shows Walmart workers that they can make noise without getting fired and that more noise will lead to progress. Organizing a union in such a non-hospitable industry is exceedingly difficult, especially since Walmart goes to a lot of trouble to frighten potential union members. But it is not impossible, and it happens to be the only way Walmart employees will ever achieve anything like middle class status.

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