August, 2014

A Labor Day Message from Bill Fletcher, Chair of the Retail Justice Alliance

As we approach Labor Day, the growing divide between the rich and poor continues to dominate the national conversation and, in some parts of the country, has led to social unrest.  While many politicians, academics and economists agree that our country’s wealth gap is bad for the economy and our society as a whole, there is only so much they can do.  Big players in the business world must address income inequality, as well.

There is no company more responsible for creating and reinforcing the wealth gap through its low-wage, part-time business practices than Walmart, our country’s largest private employer.  At the company’s own admission, the majority of Walmart’s 1.4 million workers are paid less than $25,000 a year. That means that too many Walmart workers are struggling to cover the basic necessities like food and shelter and are forced to rely on taxpayer funded supports like food stamps to survive.

Walmart can afford to pay its workers more.  The company makes between $16 and $17 billion a year in profits, and just six members of the Walton Family—heirs to the Walmart empire—have more wealth than 42 percent of American families combined.

Labor Day is a perfect moment for Walmart to lead by example and help ease the economic and social unrest that is plaguing our country. The Retail Justice Alliance calls on Walmart to change the way it does business so that Walmart workers can support their families and contribute to their local communities and economies.

New Reports Underscore Inequality Crisis

imagesIn the weeks leading up to Labor Day, politicians and economists are calling attention to the growing gap between the rich and poor and its effect on economic mobility and the economy as a whole.

A new report released this week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors underscores the growing problem of income inequality in this country.  According to the report, jobs lost during the Great Recession are being replaced with jobs that pay 23 percent lower—which represents $93 billion in lost wages.  Meanwhile, income gains are mostly going to the wealthiest U.S. households. The report also forecasts that income inequality will continue to persist and middle-income households will continue to fall behind unless policies are developed to mitigate these trends.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors report follows on the heels of a report released by the Federal Reserve which also reveals that a significant number of Americans are still struggling financially after the Great Recession.  The report, which was based on responses to a survey of over 4,100 people taken in 2013, shows that while a majority of U.S. households said they were “living comfortably” or “doing okay,” almost 40 percent reported that their families were “just getting by” or struggling financially.

The rating agency Standard & Poor’s also weighed in on the national conversation about the widening gap between the rich and poor and announced this month that it had trimmed its economic outlook for the U.S. due, in part, to income inequality.

Moms Fight Stagnant Wages and Precarious Work Schedules

schedyAcross the nation there is a growing conversation about the importance of raising wages and securing consistent hours for retail workers. At the forefront of the movement to improve jobs, it is increasingly common to find women leading the charge.

The retail sector employs more people than any other sector in America. The jobs it provides, primarily low-wage work, are disproportionately held by women. Many of these women have children and other dependents who also rely on their income. For this reason, Walmart moms have been at the forefront of the movement to build an economy that works for all families.

On June 6, Walmart moms went on strike during Walmart’s annual shareholders’ meeting to protest Walmart’s retaliation against workers who dare to speak out for change. Part of a larger movement through the Organization United for Respect (OUR Walmart), Walmart workers are calling on Walmart to publicly commit to implement changes that could substantially improve the lives of working parents including changes to pregnancy policy, scheduling, sick days and pay.

Walmart keeps wages low and cut employees’ hours at the expense of workers’ livelihoods and customer service. Heirs to the Walmart fortune, the Walton family, have more wealth than the bottom 42% of all Americans combined. Meanwhile, they continue to pay most of their workers less than $25,000 a year.

As the main breadwinners for their families, Walmart moms aren’t standing up simply for women or their families. They’re helping to inspire a larger movement for change that can benefit all working people.

Americans Are Still Recovering From the Great Recession, New Report Shows

The Federal Reserve’s new Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households reveals that a significant number of Americans are still struggling financially after the Great Recession.  The report, which was based on responses to a survey of over 4,100 people taken in 2013, shows that while a majority of U.S. households said they were “living comfortably” or “doing okay,” almost 40 percent reported that their families were “just getting by” or struggling financially.

The report also found that 34 percent of Americans were worse off financially compared to five years ago.  In addition—and more alarmingly—31 percent of non-retired Americans reported having no retirement savings or pension, including 19 percent of respondents in the 55-64 age bracket.

The Federal Reserve’s new report joins a growing number of studies about the lingering effects of the Great Recession on U.S. households and the growing gap between the rich and poor.

 

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A Tale of Two Maps

Originally posted on Making Change at Walmart

Recently, the real estate blog Movoto got a lot of press attention when it released this interactive map showing the richest individual in each state. The map revealed that three Walmart heirs are the richest person in their respective states. That list includes Christy Walton (in Wyoming worth an estimated $36.7 billion), Alice Walton (in Texas worth an estimated $35.3 billion) and Jim Walton (in Arkansas worth an estimated $35.7 billion).

The Waltons should have actually held Arizona as their fourth state as well, where Rob Walton resides with $34.2 billion.

Meanwhile, the majority of Walmart workers continues to make less than $25,000 a year.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that while managers received handsome compensation for their work, Walmart cashiers made just $8.48 an hour on average. This number is in stark contrast to the national average hourly wage for cashiers of $11.22.

With such low wages and inadequate hours, Walmart workers are often pushed to rely on food stamps and other government assistance programs to get by. Earlier this year, Americans for Tax Fairness released a report estimating that American taxpayers footed the bill for $6.2 billion in government programs to help support Walmart workers who could not get by on their low pay.

When set next to each other, these two maps tell the tale of a growing gap that everyone from Pope Francis to Standard and Poor has called problematic.

Tale-of-Two-Maps