The next time you shop Wal-Mart

Via Arts & Letters Daily comes a New York Review of Books article looking at the “Leviathan,” Wal-Mart. It makes for interesting reading.

For example, with 1.4 million employees worldwide, Wal-Mart’s workforce is now than GM, Ford, GE, and IBM combined. And Wal-Mart’s 2003 annual revenues are 2 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and eight times the size of Microsoft’s.

Why has Wal-Mart done so well? Here’s a couple possible reasons:

  • As of last spring, the average pay of a sales clerk at Wal-Mart was $8.50 an hour, or about $14,000 a year, $1,000 below the government’s definition of poverty level for a family of three. Only between 41 and 46 percent of Wal-Mart employees can afford even the least-expensive health care benefits offered by the company.
  • According to a congressional report (PDF file), for a 200-employee Wal-Mart store, the government spends $108,000 a year for children’s health care; $125,000 a year in tax credits and deductions for low-income families; and $42,000 a year in housing assistance. The report estimates such a Wal-Mart store costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year, or about $2,103 per Wal-Mart employee. That translates into a total annual welfare bill of $2.5 billion for Wal-Mart’s U.S. employees.
  • A California study showed that in 2003 that state’s taxpayers subsidized $20.5 million worth of medical care for Wal-Mart employees. And in Georgia that same year, one in four Wal-Mart employees had children enrolled in the state’s program for needy children.
  • No doubt, it’s a coincidence that 80 percent of Wal-Mart’s political contributions go to the Repugnicans. And now you won’t need to wonder how Wal-Mart keeps its prices so low the next time you’re there.

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