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Argumentative Essay Walmart

Is Walmart Good or Bad for America? A Debate
May 8, 2007
Richard K. Vedder, Ken Jacobs

David Theroux
President, The Independent Institute

Good evening ladies and gentleman, my name is David Theroux. I’m the President of the Independent Institute, and I want to welcome you to our program this evening. As you know, it’s entitled “Is Walmart Good or Bad for America?” We’re delighted to have two leading experts who will be debating the issues involved in this controversy.

For those of you who are new to the Institute, hopefully you got a packed when you registered. You’ll find information about our publications, including our books. This is our journal, The Independent Review, a quarterly journal edited by Robert Higgs. You’ll also find information about upcoming events.

One of the inserts in your packet is about the summer seminars we operate for high school and college students called Summer Seminars for Students. And you’re welcome to encourage young people to attend. We have two week-long seminars this year, and you’ll see the dates in your packet.

The Institute’s program is a bit different from most so-called public-policy institutes. We’re really more interested in getting to the roots of issues based on current and proposed policies, as opposed to the normal kind of thing that passes for debate in Sacramento and Washington. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re delighted to have our speakers this evening.

One last thing I’ll mention. In your packets is a flier about an earlier book of ours. That’s this one here, called Out of Work. This is the second edition from New York University Press. One of our speakers, Professor Vedder, was one of the co-authors of that. It’s a book on the issue of unemployment. It’s a systematic look at that problem throughout the 20th century in the United States, and virtually every kind of government policy that affects that issue. So I encourage you to look at that, because that’s certainly part of the questions that we’re going to be looking at this evening.

As everyone here knows, the entry and operations of big-box retailers has become a major controversy in various communities. But in the history of economic development, many of the issues being debated are really not new ones. Instead, the same questions were raised when people first began to specialize from what were considered changes that were different from the norm many years ago.

Once upon a time, most communities were based on a subsistence, self-reliant kind of existence. That essentially changed into economies based on division of labor, where skills were divided up as far as production and trade, in both farming and manufacturing. The previous self-sufficient “starvation” of subsistence, essentially, was replaced by markets of craftspeople, who would sell their products directly to consumers.

Craftspeople then found that specialized vendors could expand their markets, their sales reach, and would enable them to cut costs and specialize further. Specialty vendors in turn reduced their cost and risk by becoming middlemen and women for dry goods and other general stores, which was a significant innovation in the history of retailing. Which then, in turn, reduced the time and cost of shopping for consumers.

General stores eventually faced the economies of scale from dime stores and department stores, like Sears and Macys. And supermarkets, like Safeway and Lucky’s. The shopping center arose after World War II, and with new technologies and techniques, the discount department store, or big-box stores, came into being via Costco, Walmart, Target, K-Mart and others.

The most successful of these big-box retailers is, of course, Walmart stores, which was founded in 1962 by Sam Walton, who incidentally, started his career in retailing by working as a clerk in a penny store in Des Moines, Iowa. So to set the stage of this night’s debate, here are some numbers that I drew from Wikipedia this afternoon, and PBS’ program Frontline.

Today Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, as well as the largest corporation, with 6,700 stores, 3,400 of which are in the United States. Annual revenues of $356 billion, and 1.5 million employees worldwide, 1.2 million of whom are in the United States. As such, it is the largest private employer in the United States and Mexico, and hires 600,000 new employees each year, reflecting a company turnover of about 44 percent, which is pretty much close to the industry average, I should mention. Walmart is also the largest grocery retailer in the United States, with an estimated 20 percent of retail grocery and consumable business, and the largest toy seller in the United States, with an estimated 45 percent of the retail toy business.

Some people of course argue that Walmart reduces living standards, hurts retail trade, disrupts communities, and relies on government programs to provide healthcare for many of its workers. Others argue that Walmart has improved America’s standards of living, with lower cost for consumers, greater employment opportunities, and healthier communities, especially for the least affluent.

So, we’re here tonight to try and sort this all out. And, as I said, we’re delighted to have two experts who have looked at many of these questions. The format for the debate tonight is that each of the speakers will speak for 20 minutes. Afterward, they will have the opportunity for a ten-minute response. We’ll then open it up to questions and discussion from the audience afterward.

Our first speaker is Richard Vedder. Professor Vedder is a senior fellow here at the Independent Institute. He’s actually authored two books here, among other things. He’s a distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University. He’s the co-author of the book Out of Work, I mentioned, which is in a second edition, and, most recently, of the book The Walmart Revolution, which is on tonight’s topic. The subtitle of that is How Big-Box Stores Benefit Consumers, Workers and the Economy. I’m delighted to welcome Richard Vedder.

Richard Vedder
Senior Fellow, The Independent Institute

Thank you very much, David. I’m delighted to be here. As David mentioned, I have an association with this fine institute, that goes back, I think, to it’s beginning in one form or other, which now must be 20-something years. Hard to believe. And I am delighted to be here.

As David indicated, attacks on big corporations are commonplace. He didn’t get into this in detail, but in his introduction he alluded to something that is worth pointing out. I’m an economic historian. I have to mention that the attacks on Walmart today are the continuation, in many ways, on attacks on large corporate entities that have been going on in various ways for a long, long time. It was almost exactly 100 years ago today, for example, that Ida Tarbell wrote a book about the Standard Oil Company. The company was viscously attacked at the time. And then later on, we were told that General Motors in the 1960s was producing inferior cars. Remember the Corvair and Ralph Nader? And we learned that oil companies are hurting us and causing all sorts of problems in our lives. Tobacco companies and so forth.

So the criticism of large corporations is not new in America, and I would say that historically, in many cases, they tend to be overblown, although some of the criticisms may be justified. Standard Oil gave us cheap kerosene and gasoline. And research has subsequently shown that the Corvair was not particularly unsafe.

Six Criticisms of Walmart

But today, let’s talk about Walmart. Let me mention six criticisms. “Walmart costs jobs. It costs jobs in many ways. It costs jobs locally, when it comes to town, and workers lose jobs at competitive firms, competing firms. It costs jobs because globalization leads to decline in manufacturing jobs in the U.S., and Walmart is a large importer of goods.”

Secondly, we’re told that Walmart pays substandard wages. That its wages are low, lower than they need to be, lower than they should be, lower than what is appropriate.

Thirdly, we’re told that Walmart does not provide health insurance for its workers, and this is a shameful condition that needs to be rectified.

We’re also told that Walmart destroys local business, and downtown areas, and often wreaks havoc with the fabric of local communities in a variety of different ways.

We are told, fifthly, that Walmart is a burden on governments. We see this because Walmart workers are on Medicaid, we’re told. That Walmart receives subsidies sometimes when it comes into communities, in the form of tax credits and breaks. That it adds to the burden on taxpayers.

Six, we’re told that Walmart hurts the environment. That there are environmental problems of the variety of sorts with Walmart.

And there are other minor, or lesser criticisms that I won’t go into. We only have 20 minutes.

My favorite came from a law professor—at, of course, the University of California, where else?—who argued very passionately, recently, that Walmart hurts women’s health. That it is a detriment to women’s health. And it took me a long time to figure out what the reasoning was there. The reasoning, by the way, is that when you go into a Walmart store, you don’t have to walk as much as before we had Walmart, and women aren’t walking as much as before, and they need to walk more, and therefore their health is impaired. Although I think the woman who made this claim had never been in a Walmart store, because every time I go in, there’s a lot of walking, I think. But anyway.

So there are a lot of criticisms of Walmart. Let me talk about them for a few minutes. And then let me talk about what I think are some of the positive attributes of the company.

Does Walmart Cost Jobs?

First of all, does Walmart cost jobs? It is no doubt true that there are some workers, who had jobs before Walmart came to town, who lose their jobs when Walmart comes to town. They work for the local, competitive, small store that goes out of business. They lose their job. It is no doubt true that there are some people that have worked in U.S. manufacturing plants that are no longer working in U.S. manufacturing plants because jobs are being created in China—the products are being outsourced to foreign companies. And, in some cases, Walmart is buying those goods.

But it is also true that Walmart creates a lot of jobs. First of all, every new Walmart store employs typically 300 or 350 workers right by itself. This is exclusive of any other synergies, or other stores that may open up at the same time when Walmart opens up in the community.

Research that I have done—I’ve looked at Walmarts that open, and I’ve looked at employment in communities the year before Walmart opened. I looked at employment in the communities the year after they open. I’ve tried to correct for regional effects, and other effects that might impact on this, and looked at employment. And I’ve found, in a majority of cases, there are more jobs in the community after Walmart comes to town than before. That finding is very consistent with the finding of several other scholars that, on-balance, Walmart is probably a job creator.

It’s interesting that in the era of the Walmart domination of retail in the 1990s and 2000s, the average unemployment rate in the United States is lower, not higher, than it was in, say, the 1970s, before Walmart became a significant force in our life. The data simply do not support the hypothesis that Walmart is a net destroyer of jobs. Simply does not support that, in my judgment.

I could go into some arguments relating to globalization as it relates to this, but it’s true, as international trade has expanded, job creation has expanded as well. Unemployment rates in the last decade or 15 years, for example, are on average lower than they were in the 1970s, when the international trade sector was much smaller.

Walmart, by the way, although it is a big importer of goods, is hardly unique in the big-box industry in importing goods from China and other places. I defy you to go into a Best Buy electronics store and try to buy an American made good of any kind in one of those stores.

Walmart and Wages

Second, with regards to wages: you don’t get rich working at Walmart. A typical Walmart worker, they report the average wage is between $10 and $11 an hour. Varies a little bit from state to state. There’s some regional variation. My guess is that in California it’s a tad higher than that, because your wage levels tend to be a little higher than average. I would guess in this state it’s around $11 an hour. And there are a lot of workers that make $8 or $9 an hour. There are others that make $15.

But these wages are not out of line with industry standards. The average pay in retail trade is low. Workers tend to be relatively inexperienced; they tend to have relatively low levels of skill, on average. And this is very typical for an industry of this kind.

Walmart, by the way, has one fringe benefit, or one attribute that’s a little unusual in the industry. It does have a large number of its employees that own common stock in the company, which makes it somewhat different than some of the others. And there seems to be some high level of loyalty to the company, on average, even though, obviously, there are some exceptions. David mentioned, for example, the turnover rates of Walmart employees are really not out of line with industry standards, and that, as best I can tell, is the case.

By the way, I’m somewhat hampered in talking about this, because Walmart itself, inexplicably, didn’t provide me with a lot of information that I asked, even though I was saying nice things about the company. And, by the way, I don’t own a single share of Walmart stock. I never had much association with the company at all, other than shopping there a few times. And that’s it. I never met a major Walmart executive ‘til two weeks ago when I ask him to sell copies of my book. And they refused to in their stores. Which is one of the worst business decisions they ever made.

Walmart and Health Benefits

What about health benefits? This is what gets a lot of the attacks from the labor unions—and it is the unions that are leading this attack on Walmart, make no mistake about it. There are other groups too, but it is the unions that are leading the way more than anyone else.

Health benefits in the industry tend to be relatively low in retail trade. I see varying numbers. Never higher than 50 percent, never lower than 40 percent of the workers, receive health insurance through Walmart. That’s not atypical of that industry.

How many workers at Walmart have no health insurance at all? I’ve never seen a number higher than 10 percent. And it’s usually somewhat lower. Many, many workers are on their spouse’s healthcare plan, their parents’ health care plan, or they’re senior citizens like myself, who are those blue-suited guys at the door, some of whom are senior citizens who are on Medicare already. Most people have some sort of benefit.

Now to be sure, Walmart’s healthcare policy expects you to pay some of the premium yourself. The benefits are not opulent in the sense of being a Cadillac policy. But this, as I say, is not out of line with industry practices.

Walmart and Local Businesses

What about local businesses? We hear that local businesses are sometimes destroyed. Walmart comes to town and the downtown closes down in small communities. Well, that sometimes does happen. And there are stores that go out of business when Walmart comes in. But I might add, they go out of business not only because Walmart comes in, but because consumers shop at them. So if you want to blame someone, blame the consumers. Maybe we ought to tax the consumers who are doing this dastardly thing. They’re going to Walmart and shop. That’s what puts these businesses out of business. It’s because Walmart is offering a superior product, more choices, lower prices, good parking, etc. Giving people what they want.

And by the way, the destructions of downtowns started long before Walmart came along. I remember in the1950s and ‘60s, shopping centers came in on the outskirts of town. People said, “There goes the downtown.” And that argument has been repeated in one form or other since it.

Joseph Schumpeter, the great Austrian economist, speaks of creative destruction. That we are constantly changing. As our tastes change, as technologies change, we find new ways of doing things. And, indeed, I think Walmart in some ways has peaked as new forms of technology are coming along to supplant it. Internet shopping, for example.

Walmart and Taxes

We are told that Walmart is a burden on taxpayers. Now, it is true that Walmart occasionally gets subsidies when they move into communities, from communities who want to lure Walmart in. And I tend to agree with the critics, that this is not a very smart idea. To give corporate welfare out. But I don’t know why Walmart should be singled out any more than any other corporation.

But it’s also true that Walmart pays billions in taxes each year. Indeed, I don’t have the exact figure for Walmart, but I would guess, since they pay sale taxes at virtually 45 of our 50 states of this Union, and making a certain assumption, it’s almost for certain that Walmart pays far more in taxes than it makes in after-tax profits. Their taxes are higher than its profits. And to argue that Walmart is a serious burden on taxpayers—it’s just simply hard to fathom, even with some workers receiving Medicaid benefits, which is true. But it’s also, I may say, true at other stores like Target or Best Buy and so forth.

Walmart and the Environment

What about Walmart and the environment? Well, this is a big argument, and we have little time. Walmart actually is getting some kudos lately from some for it’s pro-environmental actions. I was reading in today’s newspaper, for example, that it’s trying to use solar power in this state more, in a much larger fashion than previously. It’s putting pressure on its suppliers to do environmentally friendly things.

But one of the arguments is, it brings congestion to communities; it builds unsightly stores. But usually Walmart goes into some pretty grubby areas of town, where the stores that are already there are not architectural wonders. And one person’s eyesore may be another person’s Taj Mahal. So I find this argument a hard one to evaluate.

My time is I think down to four minutes or something—oh, wait, I didn’t see that. Five. My eyes are bad. So you’ll have to help me here.

Vedder’s Positive Case for Walmart

So let me turn now to the positive on Walmart. What is it that Walmart has done of a positive nature for American society? One thing that gets little attention that I want to mention first, and then talk about the things David mentioned in his introduction.

It is almost certain that Walmart has enormously increased productivity in retail trade. Workers in retail trade do a lot more, much more. They sell a lot more goods; they get more goods to the consumers today than they did a decade or two ago. Between 1987 and 2004, labor productivity in the Walmart part of the retail trade industry rose nearly 8 percent a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. This is far greater than the productivity advance in the rest of the economy, and it’s extraordinarily unusual for retail trade.

This means that workers are turning out more goods per hour, and this leads to rising standards of living, rising wages, rising prosperity for Americans. Not only employees of Walmart, but Americans as a whole. This, in my calculation, under the most conservative of assumptions, has raised our national output by tens of billions of dollars annually, and one could make an argument that it comes closer to being hundreds of billions of dollars annually. I won’t put a specific figure on it, but to say that it’s substantial.

The second thing Walmart does of a positive nature: it creates what we economists call consumer surplus. It means that people are able to get things that they would buy anyway for less money. You’re willing to pay $12 to buy a widget, and you’re able to buy one at the old style store for $10. You’re getting it for $2 less than you’re willing to pay. Walmart comes along, and now it’s only $9 instead of 10, so you’re now getting it for three bucks less than you were willing to pay. You gained a dollar. One more dollar in your pocket. And that’s welfare to you. That’s happiness for you. That’s material happiness. A dollar here, a dollar there, it all adds up.

Walmart’s annual sales, worldwide, are over $350 billion a year, roughly a billion dollars a day. Walmart sells a billion dollars of goods a day. And if people save 5 percent or 10 percent on those goods from what they otherwise would, they may mean as much as $100 million a day in savings for people.

Now who are these people? Who shops at Walmart? Well, Walmart appeals to everyone, of every income class. But the evidence is quite clear, that it especially appears to people of low and middle incomes. But a very substantial proportion of Walmart shoppers are poor. Poor people like Walmart. Poor people shop at Walmart, and spend a disproportionate percentage of their income there.

When you do away with Walmart, and you attack Walmart, you’re attacking poor people. It is the equivalent of imposing a regressive tax on people. It’s exactly the same, in my opinion.

Lastly, Walmart creates jobs. There are more people working in America than ever before. And I don’t want to say that Walmart gets all the credit, or even most of the credit for this. But to argue that Walmart is a destroyer of jobs is simply inconsistent with the factual evidence. Walmart has been a great innovator. It has improved the lot of many, many Americans both by providing jobs and by providing a greater standard of living through lower prices. It has been the ultimate American success story of the last century.

Sam Walton had a vision. Sam Walton was a fanatic in wanting to get this vision fulfilled. And he worked hard. He believed in everyday prices, he believed in meeting the needs of consumers. And he did it well. He cut costs relentlessly. He shared rooms with his senior executives when he stayed in hotels, much to their chagrin. He did everything he could to cut costs. But he did it help himself, to make more money, to be wealthier. But he helped society as well.

As a final footnote, I would mention that Sam’s widow, Helen, died last week. She is leaving almost her entire estate, close to $18 billion, the Walton Foundation to serve humankind. Thank you very much.

Thank you, Richard. Our second speaker is Ken Jacobs. Ken is the chair of the Labor Center at the University of California Berkley. He’s also a former member of the mayor’s Universal Health Care Council in San Francisco, for the city of San Francisco. He’s co-author of a number of studies that are related to our discussion tonight, including “Declining Job-Based Health Coverage for Working Families in California and the United States” and “Hidden Costs of Walmart Jobs.” Ken?

Ken Jacobs
Chair, U.C. Berkeley Labor Center

Thank you, David, and thank you for having me here tonight. And thanks everybody for coming out and missing American Idol. And the Giants-Mets game. I don’t know. Get your priorities straight, guys.

So I’d like to follow this up by reviewing the research on a number of the questions that Richard talked about, to really help us understand how we should think about Walmart, and more importantly what, if any, action can or should be taken. Does Walmart have lower wages and benefits compared to other retailers? Do they reduce wages and benefits when they move into a community? Should we care? Do they reduce prices when they move into a community? Is shifting health costs a bad thing? And, even if we do care, what can we actually do about any of this.

Areas of Agreement

Before I go into detail on wages and benefits, I want to start with some points on which I do believe Richard and I do agree. Walmart really has revolutionized retail in the United States. Their everyday low price model has driven down prices. The biggest contribution is the transformation of the logistics supply chain. Their use of technology, retail link, RFID chips, has enabled them to move goods and ship them in a much more efficient way than ever in the history of humanity, and other businesses are just catching up. Their logistics sector, in terms of the use of cross-docking and just-in-time inventory, allow them to make changes in stores at a moment’s notice. And all of this, as Richard noted, has led to major increases in productivity.

They also, given their size and scope, are able to exercise significant control over sourcing and suppliers, and in doing so have really reversed the equation in retail in America—in the world. The historical equation was, producers produce what they’re going to produce, and retailers then sell. They’re the second level down.

What Walmart’s done is flip that around. Walmart really controls what is being produced, how much it’s being produced for, and has used its tremendous power in a sense the argument they make is they’re a consumer union. They use their power to bargain prices down for consumers, much like the Democrats would like to do with Medicaid drugs.

On the flip side, that bargaining with producers has meant they are also pushing off-shoring. They’ve told business, if you want to continue to produce for us, you got to go offshore. You got to get those prices down. You can’t produce in the United States. So, that costs jobs in the U.S.. It also lowers prices. One has to look at how do we think about this.

So, there’s no question that in doing this, Walmart has brought retail prices down. And I’ll get into the evidence on that in a minute. But first I want to start and talk on the evidence on Walmart’s wages and benefits. I know Richard gave some generalities, but it’s really worth looking at some of the specifics.

Walmart’s Wages and Benefits

If we do a straight wage comparison between Walmart and other retailers, you find it’s about a 26 percent wage gap between them and large retail, that’s retailers of 1,000 or more. The straight comparison in California is 30 percent.

As Richard notes in his book, however, if we compare wages between Walmart and other retailers, we have to take into account geographic distribution of the workforce. Right? Walmart’s more in rural areas, less in cities. Wages are lower there.

So using the March 2005 current population survey and data from Walmart, we compared hourly retail workers in Walmart and did those adjustments for location differences.

And we found a sizeable wage gap between the earnings of Walmart workers and retail workers overall. That’s the general retail workers. About 12.4 percent. The gap when looking at large retail goes up to 14.5. Grocery, 17.5. And large general merchandise, so that’s their other direct competitors in general merchandise, 25.6 percent. So the evidence is very clear. Walmart does pay less than other retailers.

We find similar differences if we look at health benefits. As Richard notes in his book, Walmart provides about 43 percent, some say 46 percent, of its workforce with health benefits. That compares to about 53 percent for large retailers as a whole. But the difference is much starker when we look at the quality of those health benefits.

Walmart spends about 27 percent less on health benefits than do large retailers as a whole. And to understand what that actually means in terms of the quality of benefits, in an internal Walmart memo, Susan Chambers noted that most of their associates, as they call them, would have to be bankrupt before they met the deductibles on their health plans.

So in looking at it in terms of the health benefits, despite the general talk that Walmart workers have coverage elsewhere, the data is also clear that children of Walmart workers are much more likely to be uninsured than children of large retails as a group—27 percent compared to 22 percent—and significantly more likely to rely on Medicaid or SCHIP for healthcare, the children’s healthcare programs. About 19 percent of children of Walmart workers are on public programs compared to about 7.5 percent for retailers as a whole. So there actually are some significant differences here.

But this points to one of the public costs of Walmart’s low wages and benefits. And as we know, when workers don’t earn enough to survive and support their families through their job, they rely on public assistance programs to make ends meet. That’s what public assistance programs are for. It’s good that they’re there. But what that means is, if firms are using those programs to function as subsidies, as appears to be the case in Walmart, that can put competitive pressure on other firms to do the same, which overwhelms the public sector.

In 2001, we found that California Walmart workers, and their children, received about $32 million in health-related public assistance and $54 million in non-health-related programs like food stamps—$86 million a year. Their workforce has nearly doubled since that time, so those numbers most assuredly have gone up.

And I know Richard did note, that, well, they’re collecting a lot of tax money. But, as we’ll get into in a minute, Walmart isn’t increasing the amount of retail sales in America. They’re just changing who collects those taxes. So to argue that their retail sales off-balances it, is simply not true.

But the impact of low rates of health benefits go beyond direct public assistance, as the governor has been pointing out repeatedly recently. When people don’t have healthcare on the job, and they get healthcare—they end up relying on hospitals getting uncompensated care, and that ends up in all of your health premiums.

But if Walmart was creating new jobs, and employing people who would not otherwise be employed, none of this would be an issue. Right? So it’s important to look at, as Richard noted, what’s the net effect of Walmart’s expansion on employment, on wages and on benefits? So I want to look at that research now.

And here’s a point I want to agree with Richard. The preponderance of evidence around Walmart in retail job creation—this is leaving aside the question of off-shoring—is that Walmart has no effect on total jobs. There’re a few studies that found a small, positive effect. A mound of studies that have found a small, negative effect. Turn it every which way but sidewise, and the safe conclusion is, after Walmart comes in, the number of retail jobs is the same as it beforehand. It’s just different jobs. In fact, retail employment in the United States has been incredibly stable for the last 20 years. Walmart doesn’t create new jobs. It replaces existing jobs.

But when we look at this research, there’re some areas that actually become very difficult. And I know, I looked at some of the stuff Richard did, you know, take a few cities, what’s the employment before, after. But, really, Walmart doesn’t make its decisions on location in a vacuum. They look where are places growing, what are current wages, so you really need to put in some controls if you really want to understand what the impact is, and not just be getting what economists call selection bias.

So my colleague, Arindrajit Dube, did a study to look at Walmart’s impact on healthcare and on wages on retail as it expands. One of the nice thing about Walmart’s expansion, and this is a beautiful part of their logistics model, is they’ve expanded out pretty concentrically from Bentonville because they move their distribution center, go around it. Move out. So you got a nice pattern. So he was able to use, as they call it, instrumental variable, distance and time, time and distance from Bentonville—it’s like a drop of water going in a pool—to look at what’s the effect of Walmart as it’s expanded in counties and states on wages.

So what he found was that Walmart reduces wages in general merchandise, not a surprise. They’re going in, replacing those jobs. Walmart’s expansion reduces wages in that grocery industry—that shows it has a competitive effect. And, Walmart’s expansion does not reduce wages in non-competitive retail—that shows that the study’s actually picking up something real. He also found a decline in benefits.

What’s it all add up to? Average per state, we’re talking about a 5 percent decline in heath coverage in retail overall, and about a 10 percent decline in retail earnings. Which, total lost earnings due to Walmart range close to $5 billion a year. So these are real results.

And the sharpest example of this can be seen in what happened in southern California following the grocery strike and lockout three-and-a-half years ago, where the grocery companies said that in order to compete with Walmart, they needed to reduce their health benefits, and ended up, in a three year period, cutting the share of workers with health benefits in southern California from 94 percent to 54 percent. We can argue about how much that really was Walmart, or they were using it, but it is a significant impact, and it was Walmart’s expansion that precipitated that event.

Walmart and Consumer Savings

All right. So the evidence strongly suggests Walmart lowers wages and benefits. But what about consumer savings? Richard makes the point that you got some welfare benefits on the other side. Right? Lots of consumers are saving money.

This is actually really hard to figure out. I know in his book, Richard does a bunch of hand waving to try to come up with some numbers, and I don’t blame him, because it’s difficult. It’s hard to use the Consumer Price Index to do this, because according to the Consumer Price Index, there can be theoretically no impact. If goods are cheaper—or selling for less—it has to be either because they’re lower quality, or because people are paying to get different shopping experiences. So into the theoretical model is an inability to show any kind of change.

This makes it hard to study. There’s been some very good work done, by people like Hausman and Leibtag, really looking at identical grocery products, where that is the easiest to do. And the various grocery studies show, depending on the goods, some 7 percent to 26 percent difference at Walmart. That’s not small. And estimates of competitors dropping prices to meet Walmart is usually around 1 percent. One study found as much as 3 percent.

And grocery’s where you’d expect to find that the most, because Walmart really uses that to bring people into the store to buy other goods. So you’d be surprised if you found similar margins in other areas. So it’s clear Walmart saves consumer money.

So we’ve got this issue. They’re driving down wages and benefits, that’s clearly hurting workers. They’re saving consumers money, that’s clearly helping people. So then the question comes back to us, which is the point that Richard made, how does this work out in terms of who they’re helping and who they’re hurting?

In Chicago, people may be familiar, the city council passed by a two-thirds vote a big-box living wage ordinance. Would have required Walmart to pay $10 an hour minimum. Vetoed by the mayor. The mayor’s supporters just lost the last election. It’ll probably come back pretty soon.

So we looked and said okay, what would happen if Walmart had to pay $10 an hour nationally? We estimated it would require a wage increase of 16 percent, about $4 billion dollars a year, bringing them in line with large retailer as a whole, if still significantly behind union grocers.

The cost of such a wage increase, of course, could be absorbed in a number of ways: lower profits, reduce management salaries and bonuses, efficiency wage-gains through higher productivity, less absenteeism, or it could be passed on to consumers.

So let’s assume it’s all passed on to consumers. Doubtful, but let’s assume that. With $266 billion in sales in the U.S., a $4 billion wage increase could be passed through with a 1.5 percent increase in profits. According to ACNielsen, the average customer spends $40 on a sale. So a 1.5 percent cost increase is 62 cents. The average customer takes a little less than 28 shopping trips a year, so we’re talking about a $17 per customer.

So how would that fall on low-income shoppers, compared to the gains from low-income workers, if we want to think of Walmart as being an anti-poverty program?

Well, ACNielsen divides Walmart shoppers into 12 even groups, the top two tiers account for 54 percent of sales. What’s interesting is that while 21 percent of Walmart shoppers are in families below 200 percent of the federal poverty line, only 9 percent of their top shoppers are. Well this isn’t a surprise. People with more money spend more money; people will less money spend less money.

So what that means is, you have less than 20 percent of the sales going to low-income households, while more than half of the wage increases would go to low-income households in this model.

So basically, what we can see from this is that one can imagine the kinds of policies that would get the efficiency gains from Walmart, allow them to compete in the market, and yet still have greater benefits for workers without dramatically reducing the benefit for consumers. The impact on consumers would be spread broadly. The impact on low-income workers would be quite significant. That is what the laws proposed in Chicago and Washington, D.C., look to do, those are smart policies.

Other Criticisms of Walmart

There are a few other criticisms of Walmart I think it’s important to mention quickly, and then I’ll wrap up. As we look at Walmart and how we should think about them, one of the points that Richard made in his book is this question of why treat Walmart differently than other companies? And actually this is an area where, in general, we agree. I think that if Walmart didn’t exist, it would come into being by somebody else, and there are other ones waiting in the wings. The question to me is, in this new world, what are the kinds of policies that should be put into place, in order to level the playing field overall?

There’s also the issue that when a company like Walmart does violate the law—which they do, repeatedly—of course, they should be punished. And I just want to mention a few examples.

Walmart’s anti-labor practices go way beyond standard competitive measures. The company’s violations have included hiring janitorial contractors that pay sub-minimum wages, mostly illegal immigrants, locking workers in the store overnight in violation of health and safety regulations, charges of using child labor, meal-break violations, and of course, nowthey’re now facing the largest sex-discrimination suit in U.S. history. Of course Richard points out, correctly, that as the largest employer in U.S. history, it’s going to be the largest suit in U.S. history.

Human Rights Watch just released a 210 page report that found that Walmart stood out for its aggressive anti-union tactics—some legal, some illegal. I quote: “Walmart’s relentless anti-union drumbeat creates a climate of fear in its stores. Walmart has sent managers to eavesdrop on employees. According to former workers and managers at one store, it even ordered the repositioning of surveillance cameras to monitor union supporters.” There’s been other issues of Walmart actually surveilling shareholders of the company in order to figure out who was giving out leaks. I would think that libertarians would be especially concerned with the company’s aggressive stands towards cities in seeking economic development studies.

While Walmart doesn’t increase total sales-tax generation in a region, it can have a real impact on which jurisdiction receives that sales tax. So by invoking threats to open up in a specific jurisdiction, they’ve secured more than a billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies over the last decade. And I suspect many people in this audience would be a little uneasy with their aggressive efforts to push local jurisdictions to use eminent domain to gain land for them to build on.

Finally, many Walmart opponents don’t look at economic issues at all, but are more concerned with the impacts on traffic, the destruction of small town centers, community spaces. And Richard’s surely right on this point, that Walmart must be located within a larger trend, but there’s no question that the company’s been a large part of that trend. And town residents have the right to make zoning rules that govern what kind of community they wish to live in.

Which brings us to the important question of choice. Richard argued that banning big-box threatens consumer choice. After all, people don’t have to shop at Walmart. It’s a question of what consumers choose to do.

The problem here is it only takes a minority of switchers to Walmart to undermine the economic viability of smaller competitors. When grocery stores and small businesses lose even 20 percent of their customer base, this may push them over edge. So the end result is less consumer choice, not more. More people who want to have that choice are left out of it, because the one thing left standing is Walmart.

So in the end, some communities will decide they want big-box retail. In fact, I have to say, in our research, you don’t find any of the negative wage and benefit effects in rural areas. It’s not surprising. The jobs they’re killing didn’t pay much to start. You do find substantial wage and benefit effects in urban areas. Some communities will decide different on this. Other communities will decide they will accept big-box retailers if they meet certain community standards. Others will decide to keep them out altogether. And that’s the beauty of democracy in America. Thanks.

We’ve had both sides make their major presentation. We’ll now enter into the response. Each speaker will have 10 minutes, and we’ll start with Professor Vedder.

Articulate presentation of the alternative point of view, I must say. I’ve done a lot of these debates with a lot of people, and his presentation is the most intelligent of all of them I’ve seen. Which is—not to say I agree with it, of course. But he at least is trying to marshal evidence, rather than emotion, in making his responses.

It is true that there are areas where we could sit and quarrel. Are wages lower for Walmart employees than others? Wage gaps of 26 percent to 30 percent strike me, even looking at the data in detail, as excessive. The 12 percent to 14 percent range figures perhaps are more realistic.

Let us suppose for the moment that he is right. Let us suppose for the moment that Walmart pays its workers a dollar, a dollar and a half, less an hour, 10 percent to 15 percent less than other retail employers do. How do they get away with it? Why don’t the others follow? Is it the Walmart workers are unhappy? Are the Walmart workers furious? Are the Walmart workers clamoring to organize?

And indeed, the frustration on the part of the critics of Walmart comes precisely because Walmart workers are not collectively unhappy. And you know, who knows? We don’t take daily, weekly, monthly surveys of Walmart workers conducted by Gallup Poll or something, and the same for Target or Best Buy. So we can’t say definitively.

But it strikes me that the evidence suggests that Walmart workers are relatively happy with their position in life. And to the extent they’re unhappy, it’s the extent to which retail workers in general are looking at this as the first step in a move up, a chain of jobs over a lifetime.

And so I think that the evidence is, he could put his study up against my study, and we could argue this. I don’t want to get into that debate.

Now Ken suggests that there’s a fixed pie of retail sales, and when Walmart takes some of these sales, they’re taking them away from someone else, so that the pie of retail sales has not been increased.

I simply reject that conclusion. I do not accept that conclusion. Because I think the gross domestic product in this country, the personal income of Americans collectively, is higher today than it would be if we did not have big-box retail stores. How much higher? We can debate that point. Probably GDP’s of percent—2 percent, 3 percent, higher, at least. That’s a hundred billion, two hundred billion, three hundred billion. And some of that extra money —a good bit of it—would be spent—on retail sales. I think —that people have more goods and services today because Walmart exists.

Walmart lowers prices from what they otherwise would be. Even Ken sort of seemingly, grudgingly admitted it, mentioning the famous study by Hausman and Leibtag, for example, Emek Basker and others who generally show that Walmart have lowered prices to consumers. And that is the crux of my argument.

Consumers are important. There are 300 million consumers in the U.S. Even if you were saying this is a battle between consumers and workers, and that we somehow are in a class struggle between the consumers and the workers, there’re 300 million consumers, there’re a million and a half Walmart workers who don’t seem to be too underfed and too unhappy. The only people that are unhappy are the labor unions, who can’t organize them.

And then that is the basic crux of this. This is all about labor unions are not organizing them. It’s all about that people aren’t shopping at Safeway anymore, and at Albertsons, and at traditional grocery stores, they’re going to Walmart.

Why are they going to Walmart? Cheaper, everyday low prices. Walmart’s non-unionized, these other stores are.

Now let’s take the $4 billion and give it to these workers. Let’s say Walmart does that. One way to do it—raise everyone’s prices. Ken suggests that would be one way to do it. So let’s take $4 billion dollars out of the pockets of the consumers and give it to the workers as part of this resolution of the class struggle that Ken has introduced—the consumer-worker class struggle.

Why? What’s it going to accomplish? What is going to happen if you charge people $4 billion dollars more? They’re going to be a lot of poor people who are going to have a little bit less money. They’re going to have a few bucks less. You could say, well, they’re just $17 a year less. For lower income people, that’s a lot.

What about Chicago? He approvingly says, let’s have a $10 minimum wage in Chicago. Why not $20? Why not $30? It has the effect of keeping Walmart out of large cities, where there are a lot of poor people, for whom transportation is a big expense at $3 plus gas, $3.50 out here, isn’t it? $4 in the people’s republic.

So there are a lot of people who can’t afford to go to Walmart in these cities, and they’re kept out by various groups, especially labor unions, who are trying to protect the interest of their workers at the expense of poor people. Progressive people ought to be furious at the attacks by the leading Democratic candidates on Walmart. It is an attack on the poor. It’s an attempt to put regressive taxes on them.

Another way they could get the $4 billion, of course, is to lower Walmart’s profits by $4 billion. Now that sounds like, let’s just rip out $4 out of their profits. About half. Cut their profits. And the U.S. taxes would go down some, by the way, if that happened, too. Taxpayers would take it on the chin.

But another group that would take it on the chin is the price of Walmart’s stock. You say who cares about Walmart’s stock? Its price would fall probably eight, 10 bucks a share. Who cares? What about the pension funds that own Walmart’s stock? What about the over half a million Walmart workers who own stock in the company, who would lose on that end? What they gain on the one end, they’d lose on the other. There are all sorts of unintended consequences of proposals like the one suggest by Ken.

There are a lot of other things I could talk about. What about Medicaid? Yes, there are Walmart people receiving Medicaid. Whether it is substantially higher than other stores, as Ken alleges, I think is problematic and debatable. But let us point out that Medicaid is not unusual in the American population. What percentage of the American population is on Medicaid? It is at least 10 percent, 15 percent.

And in the state of Washington, the unions announce that there are 3,800 Walmart workers in our state that are on Medicaid. And some state senator really got excited about this until he was embarrassed when someone pointed out that there are about the same number of state employees on Medicaid. So lots of big companies have lots of people on Medicaid.

And the bottom line is that Walmart is doing what it does well. It is serving people. It is bringing welfare to ordinary Americans.

By the way, a lot of critics of Walmart say they should be like Costco, because Costco, of course, has a lot of union workers, which means they’re good. Walmart’s bad because their workers are not union.

By the way, you know, unionization in America in the private sector is nearly dead. It’s down to under 10 percent. This is the last gasp. In a society in which people are getting wealthier by the year—we’re the wealthiest society in the world—unionization is declining, workers are getting better off.

So I could go on and on. Sure there’s lawsuits being filed against Walmart all over the place. There are a million-and-a-half people working at Walmart. They’ve got more employees than the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army is a professional organization—it generally does things pretty well. But now and then workers screw up there. There are people who screw up at Walmart.

I would argue that Walmart as a whole is a company that has served the good of America, as much or more than anyone else. Thank you very much.

So, in his rebuttal, Richard did a god job of doing what he does quite a bit in his book—throw out large numbers without any evidentiary basis.

Let’s start with the impact on earnings per share. He said something that it would cost—what did you say, $10, $15 a share? I’m going to turn to the bastion of leftist research—Bank of America—to look at their analysis. They estimated that an after-tax impact of a 50-cent wage hike would be zero—so it’d be a—0.13 dollars. So that’s a tenth of a cent per share. So just to put all this in a little bit of perspective. So if we’re talking about a buck increase, we’re talking about a quarter-cent-per-share impact on shareholders. A little bit less that $5 or $10.

I sort of love this debate. First Richard comes out and says hey, Walmart’s really good for poor people. Then when I point out it’s not good for poor people, then he says we’re engaging in class struggle. So let’s be real.

Workers and consumers are the same people. Consumers work, some of them. Workers consume. Hopefully, most of them, maybe a bit less than some other people, depending on where you on the income spectrum. We all have a dual life as workers and consumers. That’s the reality. That’s why, in general, people look at Walmart in a mixed way.

When there was the discussion of Walmart coming into Chicago, and there was debate going on in the South Side of Chicago about them coming in, some of the people with ACORN there, the community organization, were saying let’s keep Walmart out. And their members were saying, why would we do that? We need retail. We want cheap goods. But then what the members said was, we also want to be treated with dignity. And so we want jobs that come in that treat us well, and that pay us a living wage.

That’s the balance. It’s simply intellectually dishonest to argue that Walmart is overall better for poor people, and that any wage increase would hurt poor people more than it would help. The numbers simply do not back that up. A wage increase at Walmart would be spread broadly across a large group of consumers at all ranges of the income spectrum—as we mentioned, an average of about $17 a year—while the gains would be felt very strongly by people who are, by and large, very low income.

Now you can decide whether or not you agree, and I think we ideologically disagree about how wealth should be distributed in society. That’s a reasonable debate. But to argue that to do a wage increase would hurt poor people more than it helps poor people is simply not supported by the facts.

There’s this other notion that keeps coming up that the reason people are mad at Walmart is because they’re non-union and their workers are all happy. Well, I’m the chair of the U.C. Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. And if I had a near 50 percent turnover rate, most people would think there’s something wrong with my business operation, and maybe my employees aren’t happy. To argue that people are just pleased as punch about their current situation has, again, very little relationship to reality.

There have been a number of attempts by unions to organize Walmart. If you read the 210-page report that came against Human Rights Watch—you know, the one that used to criticize Poland and the Soviet Union for violations of human rights? They’re now focused in looking at Walmart as a human rights violator, and specifically at violating worker’s rights to association. In the Fourth Amendment, I think people remember that, about worker’s right to associate? Well, Walmart doesn’t think workers should have the right to associate.

They think it’s okay to spy on their employees. They think it’s okay to fire people for talking to each other about trying to improve their working conditions. I think that’s pretty un-American. But hey, we can have differences on these points.

Overall, as we look at this question again, I think a key point that Richard has made, and others have made, I think bears keeping in mind. Walmart is not that significantly different than Target, or Best Buy, or Home Depot. Quick, you name them faster than I do, right? Lowe’s. Who else is out there? Starbucks pays well and has good benefits. Whatever you think of their coffee, the reality’s reality on that.

But this is an overall trend in retailing in America, and that is why I think it’s important that it be treated on a policy level as an overall trend. If we are unhappy as a society about what’s happening with job-based health benefits—we’ve seen a 5 percent point decline in the last five years. We’re seeing that our basic structure of how health benefits are provided in the United States erode. Some people may say that’s fine. Let’s leave it to the individual hunt and peck on the market. If you can get coverage, good, if you can’t bad, and you’re on your own, tough luck. Or you may say, hey, I think this is a problem, and I think we should do something about it.

If you think it’s a problem, then action should be taken on the state and federal level to rectify that problem. In many ways, Walmart is a symptom as much as it is a problem. And those symptoms should be dealt with as a society when we look at the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of policies that we can carry out, and how they will benefit our society.

So if Walmart is driving down wages and benefits, things like big-box living wage ordinances could makes sense. If health benefits are being driven out, then we can look at in lieu fees for healthcare, as are being proposed by everybody in Sacramento these days. There are various ways to deal with these things. And I think it’s important to look at Walmart, understand it is a trend that’s going on in society, and develop responses to that trend.

Do I think at the same communities have the right to keep a store out of their neighborhood? Of course I do. People have a right to make quality-of-life decisions about their communities. And again, some will make those decisions in one way, some will make those decisions in another way.

I don’t hold this personally against Walmart. It’s a business. Its job is to maximize profit. And as workers, as consumers, as citizens, our job is to figure out what’s best for our society. And in some cases, that will be accepting things as they are. In some cases, it’ll be changing the rules of the game to better our society. And that’s where I think the debate should go. Thanks.

Audience Member

This question is for either one of you, either Mr. Vedder or Mr. Jacobs. Do you have any information at all on the skill set—the level of skill and knowledge—that workers who are hired by Walmart bring versus the skill and knowledge, for example, that workers hired by Best Buy or by other retail stores, such as, for example, Anne Taylor or Gap?

My hypothesis is that Walmart will hire people who are marginally hirable, and that they would not, in fact, be able to get a job at most other retailers. And that that is one of the explanations, I would hypothesis, between the difference in what Walmart can pay, therefore, in wages, and what another retailer would have to pay in wages, that that difference can, in part, be accounted for by the difference in the level of education, skill, prior experience, and knowledge that the person who’s being hired by Walmart brings to the table. So I don’t know if there’s any data. I’m really interested in whether there is data.

Richard Vedder

I don’t know. Ken, do you know of any specific data? First of all, these things are relatively hard to measure. It would be possible to at least have education data—what are the education backgrounds of Walmart employees vis-à-vis Best Buy, and so forth.

I have not seen such data. But I was going to pick up on your point—and this is purely based on my own anecdotal experience, though I point out anecdote is the single, data is the plural of anecdotes.

So my evidence here is very, very limited, I don’t know. But I have the same feeling you do. When we talk about retail trade, we’re including stores of all different types. And the people who work at Anne Taylor, and at Cartier, and at Neiman Marcus, and at Bloomingdale’s probably, on average, have somewhat higher skill sets than the others. And that is my hypothesis—as those who work at Walmart. But I don’t know. I don’t have any evidence.

Ken Jacobs

I actually think it’s a good question because we don’t have the data on Walmart. Economists call this the labor-labor substitution effect.

So after the living wage laws were put in place in both the San Francisco International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport, we did some before and after—surveys in San Francisco, another professor at UC Riverside did before and after surveys looking in LAX.

And what was interesting is we found there was no demographic change in the workforce, no significant change in educational level of the workforce. There was a slight change towards jobs, in both cases, jobs that were traditionally more male jobs, moved very small, but statistically significant, towards more men. Hypothesis is at a higher wage, you’re got more job applicants, and if you’re choosing across the board, you’re going to end up with a few more men. But in terms of anything measurable in that area, you couldn’t find it.

And I think one of the issues here that’s really important that also came out in our research of the living wage impacts in those cities is again what economists calls efficiency wage gains.

There’s this sort of notion that people think of as labor, as somehow it’s a static thing. Right? A widget, you buy, you sell, and it remains a widget. People are different than that. The evidence is actually quite clear. When you pay people more, their behavior on the job changes. What we saw at the San Francisco International Airport was not only major drops in turnover, which brought important savings to the businesses—and we interviewed the HR people, not the business owners. The HR people were in love with this policy, I have to say. Made their lives a lot easier.

But the reports we heard from both workers and employers were talking about improvements in customer service, improvements in attitude on the job, much fewer grievances against the employer.

And these were the same people. So it wasn’t a question of these people are marginally hirable or not, it was a question of when you pay people enough, they value the job differently, and they perform differently.

David Theroux

Incidentally, there is some data that we have about this, and I don’t have it at my fingertips, but it’s my understanding that Walmart’s demographics is in keeping with what you’re suggesting, as far as more young people, more people with impairments of different types, more senior citizens. And these are people who are essentially unskilled, or even having impairments. And that’s one of the reasons why there is a wage difference. How about the lady right there?

Audience Member

I really don’t single out Walmart, I’m talking about big-box development in general. But one thing that I didn’t hear discussed is we do have lower prices, but what about the availability of goods?

When big corporations come in and decide what records we’re going to be listening to, what products we’re going to consume, they come into a neighborhood, and local businesses go out of business, because they cannot compete.

Walmart, because they’re such a big corporation, they can afford to sell things much cheaper than maybe, let’s say, a local bookstore. And statistically, we’re seeing all these local bookstores go out of business. You have a limit in the kinds of books you can buy. So for me, it’s not only a matter of getting something cheaply, it’s like in the future, what is even going to be available to consumers, if we put all our apples in one basket.

Richard Vedder

I think that’s an excellent question or an excellent point. And it is true that when we evaluate the welfare of consumers, we ought to look, not only at prices, but the availability of products. The choice set that they have.

But you know, it’s funny, because I look at this a little differently than you do, because I live in a small town. I live in a town that didn’t have a Walmart. And people in our town always drove 75 miles to Columbus, Ohio, to shop, because they didn’t have a place where you could buy a large selection.

Walmart came to town and sure, a couple local hardware stores closed, local groceries closed, etcetera. But on the whole, we got more choice. Because Walmart’s selection of goods is far greater than existed prior to that.

And so we thought, even those of use who usually would not shop at discount houses, or at big-box stores, would go there because of a greater selectivity.

I think that is an issue in evaluating a choice.

You mention Walmart’s stock today is no higher than it was seven years ago. If they’re exploiting the heck out of their workers, it’s not showing up in the value of their stock.

One thing that’s happened in the last six or seven years, more and more people are shopping by the Internet and so forth, and I think they’re doing it partly for convenience, but partly because they feel they get greater selectivity. I shop at Amazon because there are books I can buy at Amazon that are not readily available at the local small bookseller. But there is the other side of the argument, which you’re raising. I think it’s an interesting question.

Ken Jacobs

I would just say that the point you just made really highlights to me the differences in how these impacts are experienced in rural and urban areas. In rural areas, I think Walmart has had a very different impact, in terms of what he talked about wages and benefits, or even bringing in other goods. You know, it destroys town centers. There’s some social capital that’s lost. One can balance those things off.

But it is a different impact than you find in metropolitan statistical areas. And I think that’s why communities in different places, as I mentioned, will make different kinds of decisions. I mean, I, for one, think Walmart should carry your book. I know it is carried in my local bookstore, and hope that that continues to happen.

But all of these things have a variety of impacts. And that’s why I come back to the question is, from a public policy perspective, how do we best maximize the positive impacts while minimizing the negative impacts?

Audience Member

So the first question is, Mr. Vedder, you made a point regarding Walmart’s share price. And Mr. Jacobs, you rebutted that a $4 billion dollars off the bottom line would have a marginal impact on Walmart’s share price. Just a real quick clarification on that. What if Walmart misses earnings? What if Walmart guides lower? What happens to the share price then? Is there a ripple down effect from there on the share price, or is it that only marginal 10-cent loss that you quoted from Bank of America?

Ken Jacobs

It’s not a 10-cent loss, it’s a tenth of a cent loss. No, actually, I’m sorry, I just looked at that wrong. It’s a 1.3-cent loss. It’s a one-cent loss. I mean, I actually think that it might turn around the other way. The whole point of this Bank of America analysis is that Walmart, because of their behavior, has had relentless pressure against them, in terms of all of these campaigns. And it’s really showing up in consumer attitudes.

Walmart has a problem right now. It’s sort of built out to where they can build in rural areas. To the degree they’re building more stores, they’re cannibalizing themselves—the same-store sales are going down. They’re finding serious resistance in urban areas, and B of A says what, it’s something like 40 to 50 stores are being stopped a year. New York—they gave up on going into New York. Their view is they’ve sort of net as far as their going to get with the market, in terms of the working people.

It’s actually very funny. For this crowd, I know, Lee Scott said that we should raise the minimum, of course, and he’s now also looking at the need for universal healthcare, both because he thinks it’ll help their consumers be able to purchase more product—that’s the CEO of Walmart. So I agree with Lee Scott on a few things.

And part of the area they’re trying to reach now is middle-class consumers, as they look at places to grow. All of these negative campaigns are really having an impact on middle class consumers’ attitudes.

So at this point, it seems fairly likely that some move that would be a very small move, in terms of their overall bottom line, to improve some of these conditions, could, in fact, turn around and have significant gains for them, in terms of their reputation, and who was willing to shop there. So I think on the business side, it cuts both ways.

Audience Member

What does Walmart do for unemployment in a region? Is there any movement as far as reducing welfare or Medicare costs on the unemployed population in a region when Walmart opens up shop?

Ken Jacobs

I can say, as I did in my presentation, we’ve done very extensive analysis looking at this. As I’ve said, using a model, we did 17 different specifications in terms of the regressions cutting it in a wide variety of different ways to try to understand these impacts, and it’s very clear Walmart does not increase employment as they expand. Employment stays about the same. Overall, the aggregate wages in retail go down. And average wages in retail go down. And health benefits go down.

So all of that combined means it is not possible that Walmart is having an effect on overall removing people from Medicaid, etc. In fact, we find, compared to other retailers, their workers use it more. And that’s looking at data straight out of Walmart that they’ve made public.

So I think that that answers those questions. From what we have on the data, as close as you can get, it’s very strong to say that in fact, no, they’re not reducing unemployment, and no, they’re not taking people off public programs.

Richard Vedder

Let me say, for the record—and I hate these debates where my study says something different than your study, and we can sit here and argue about studies. I would say that the preponderance of scholarly evidence appearing in refereed, high quality economic journals like The Review of Economics and Statistics, journals of this caliber, show that, in general, Walmart has modestly positive employment effects. And wage effects, particularly if you take into account the price effects of Walmart, in terms of price levels—the CPI’s a little lower than it would be otherwise—that Walmart is probably has a modestly positive effect on real wages, particularly given the productivity event.

Now, as far as this B of A study on 1.3—I’m just going to say flat out, I think it is just bunk, in terms of what we have said. If Walmart’s profits fell by a third because of some new social justice program, to think that the price of Walmart’s stock would move less than 50 cents a share or something it just boggles the mind.

There are a lot of people in this room who are investors, who I don’t think would pay a heck of a lot of attention to the B of A analysis on that.

Audience Member

I had an economic question for Richard, though I’d certainly be interested in what Ken has to say. Within any company, such as Walmart, there are different levels of work, and different levels of payment. Managerial work, for example, pays much more than cashiers.

In that gender discrimination lawsuit, it’s alleged that the two-thirds of the managerial workers—and I may not be exact on my statistics—two-thirds of the managerial workers are men, and two-thirds of the cashiers are women. Do you have an economic explanation for this?

Ken Jacobs

It’s higher.

Richard Vedder

First time students that are just joining campus are usually unaware as to how to lead a campus life. Issues such as socialization, education and the livelihood of the student require to be developed at a favorable pace that ensures that the student has all the information at hand before making any major decisions. As such, the decisions made will ensure that the students does not have regrets later on when a decision made earlier back fires on them. One of the major decisions that a freshman should make is where they will be doing their shopping or the ideal place to go to the mall.

The Walmart shopping experience would be the ultimate correct decision made with regard to where a freshman student should carry out their shopping.

Critics discourage shoppers, especially the freshmen students; from shopping at the Walmart stores since they believe that the students should be allowed to make their own choices as to where to shop. The idea they seem to be suggesting is ironical since their sentiments seem to try to control the student’s choice of shopping place by dissuading them from shopping at Walmart. Furthermore, the reasons presented by these critics are quite vague and are representative of people with a negative agenda for the shopping experience at Walmart (Slee 147).

The student’s cash allowance is usually not unlimited and thus the students have to control their spending to ensure that they do not run out of cash mid-way through the semester. To manage this limited cash reserve, students have to budget their monies, only make the necessary purchases and finally look for ways and places where they can purchase goods and products at the cheapest price possible. The Walmart stores are ideal for such a student (Hitt, Duane and Robert 374). These stores have a reputation for selling goods, products and services at discounted rates to their consumers.

Studies carried out on the discounts that are offered at Walmart have generated very positive results. Foremost, they seem to indicate that Walmart is one of the cheapest destinations for a person to shop in since their discounts are as yet unrivaled by any other supermarket or retail chain. Studies have shown that people shopping at the Walmart stores collectively save roughly $200 billion per year that is generated from the discounts offered at the retail stores. This figure is much higher than such government programs as food stamps which have been known to save people roughly $28.6 billion annually.

Therefore, the student population wishing to engage in shopping at reduced or discounted rates should choose Walmart as their favorable choice. Another positive statistic that gives Walmart an edge as the ideal choice for the freshman shoppers is that the retail stores allows for shoppers to save up to 17% of the money spent on purchase of groceries. This means that the money saved after purchase of groceries at this retail stores can be channeled to other uses, which will eventually lead to the shopper receiving value for their cash spent.

Critics also argue that the retail store’s groceries have not been checked by the health and safety experts and thus are unsafe for consumption. This statistic is meant to dissuade people as well as students from buying at the stores. However, this claim is untrue since the retail store controls one-fifth of the nation’s grocery business. To date, cases of food poisoning or degrading health occasioned by purchase of items from the store have been almost non-existent. Furthermore, the retail chain buys its groceries in bulk and from trusted suppliers hence ensuring that the goods purchased are of good quality and are also healthy. Such incentives should be magnets that attract shoppers to the stores, especially the students…

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