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Is Walmart Really the Bad Guy?

working for peanutsA recent article from Yahoo Finance listed the 10 companies paying Americans the least in wages. I wasn’t really surprised to see Walmart in the number one slot, followed by McDonalds, Target, Kroger, and Yum! Foods to round out the top five.  All of the top ten except ailing retailer Sears saw profits rise, often dramatically, while wages tend to remain low. The average pay at Wal-Mart is $9/hour for sales associates, while the CEO took home over $20 million. While I am certainly no fan of Wal-Mart, is it really the bad guy media leads us to believe?

It’s Easy to Hate the CEO

I think we all remember all the golden parachutes that were issued to CEO’s during the crash a few years ago. John at Frugal Rules recently highlighted the growing disparity in wealth distribution in the US. It’s easy to hate those who are raking in the money while everyone else is struggling, but let’s look at the numbers.

If Walmart’s CEO took $20 million of his salary and gave it back to the workers who keep Walmart running from day to day, would that be a good solution? There are 1.4 million Walmart workers in the US. If you divide that $20 million up equally between the workers, that’s $14.28  per employee. Not exactly a bump into the next tax bracket, is it?

Yes, I realize there are other really high wage earners on the Walmart team, and I agree that $20 million dollars is more than any one person needs to live, but I don’t think reducing top tier salaries is going to help anyone working the express lane.

We’re Stuck in a Culture of Cheap and Fast

Walmart likes to pride itself on being the All-American store, providing affordable wares to help the working class. Fast food has tons of selections for around a dollar. However, I don’t think any of us shop at Walmart for the great customer service or eat at Taco Bell for the nutritious offerings. We want cheap and fast. If we don’t get that, we move on to the next place.

Most of the time we don’t think about teenage workers in Sri Lanka or overcrowded slaughterhouses when we go to get our cheap and fast goods. As a result, companies can’t pay American workers to make products cheaply enough to support our needs.

Growing up in my hometown, you could graduate from high school and get a job in one of the factories. Wages and benefits were good enough to support a family and boost them into middle class. Now, all the factories have moved to other countries, and the best paying gig in town for unskilled workers is at Walmart.

Stop Blaming the Companies

Like I said before, it’s really easy to blame the companies, or we could  tell people not to shop at stores that pay low wages. That’s easier said than done. I needed to buy bubble wrap this weekend. Guess where the only place to buy bubble wrap is? Yep, Walmart. Like it or not, cheap and fast has done away with many higher quality stores. I also have to admit that if I’m just buying bubble wrap, it doesn’t need to be high quality or expensive to do the job.

Who we need to blame is ourselves, and not for buying things we need at Walmart. We need to be mad at ourselves that there are places in the United States where less than half of high school students graduate. We need to be mad at ourselves when we don’t take advantage of opportunites. We need to be mad at ourselves for not expecting more.

The days when you could drop out of high school and get a good paying  job are long gone, and they aren’t coming back. I’m not saying that everyone who works at Walmart is a high school drop out, but I would ague that most people don’t spend their lives dreaming of being a Walmart associate. We are all aware of the limited income potential. People take that job when there is nothing better available.

Walmart Isn’t Going to Change

Walmart isn’t going anywhere. They aren’t going to start paying high wages. In order to do that, that would mean raising prices for the consumer, and who would shop there if it wasn’t cheap?

We need to change our ideas. Instead of thinking that some company owes us a higher wage, we need to educate and train ourselves to earn a higher wage. Making school and learning a priority for our kids is a great way to start. Not everyone was meant to go to college, but there are lots of valuable skills that can earn a livable wage. As long as there are people willing to work for low wages and be treated like crap, companies are not going to do any better.  There is nothing wrong with working a minimum wage job. It’s an honest living, but you also can’t complain if that is your choice. Walmart may be the bad guy, but we certainly do our share of enabling.

How do you feel about Walmart and their labor practices? Is some of that the fault of consumers? Would you continue to shop at Walmart if it meant higher prices but better wages for employees?

 Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/Cochrane


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. It’s definitely easy to blame Walmart the company (which is embodied in the CEO) for their business practices. As long as they don’t break laws I don’t see a problem with their labor practices. The thing is they are simply trying to meet demand. We want to spend as little money as possible, and they do what they can to meet that demand. I’m confident Walmart would change their practices overnight if consumers demanded that the employees be paid higher wages and refused to shop there until management followed through.

  2. Yep. Walmart is really the bad guy. Not the only bad guy, but definitely a bad guy. The leadership of that company chooses to pay low wages, engage in predatory maneuvers in communities and markets, and force suppliers to slash prices past the point of reason, and I think those choices are ignominious.

    And as you pointed out, Kim, many people do not have the choice to shop elsewhere. Walmart is the only option for a lot of people in a lot of places. It seems to me like asking the consumer to vote with their dollars is a little empty when there’s only one name on the ballot.

    I feel very, very fortunate that I am able to choose not to go to Walmart, but I don’t blame the people who do for the wrongs committed by the company. You’ve got to eat, and if bread must be bought from the tyrant, you buy the bread.

    I would also like to question how much choice Walmart employees feel they have in their job options. If in a neighborhood the only place to buy is walmart, where else is someone to apply for a job? Now the tyrant pays your wages too… and its not enough to make a different choice, even if you wanted to.

    No one wants to work for a low wage and be treated like crap. But I suppose believing that is the case makes it easier for those of us who do have the luxury of choice to make our descisions without needing to consider other people or their needs.

  3. This is a great example of playing the blame game. Instead of looking at ourselves, how we can improve and succeed, we start to pick apart successful companies because of their success. WE are the problem, not them!

  4. I think you make a good point: Walmart just exploits our addiction to “cheap and fast.” As long as we want that, there’ll always be a Walmart or someone like them to satisfy that itch. Don’t like Walmart? Stop shopping there…..

    I’m a Walmart hater because I’m not a fan of the way they treat employees and some of their other business practices, but I’m with you–they aren’t evil. They give us exactly what we want, so I have to stop wanting it to make a change.

    • Sometimes I can’t avoid shopping there unless I want to drive an hour to another town. It’s sad when you feel dirty for shopping at a store that sells general merchandise.

  5. I can’t remember which Wal-mart location it was in the States, but they held a Thanksgiving food drive for their own EMPLOYEES! That tells you something. They clearly aren’t paying their employees enough and this is the harsh reality that minimum wage or barely above minimum wage is not enough for people to survive.

    I agree that we’re not really helping the situation by shopping there. I have yet to see people actively protest about boycotting Wal-mart though.

    • In researching this post, it appears that Walmart offers education on how to sign up for public assistance and Medicaid. They are letting the government pay for things they should be covering.

  6. It’s going to be hard for me to give an educated answer without knowing all the facts about Wal-mart in the first place, except their is a general feeling of hatred for the store. What do stores like Target pay? It seems on par with a Wal-mart as far as being cheap and convenient, no? Why does that store not get the same backlash? I do agree though that if you are a person who is complaining about awl-mart but still shopping there, you are not part of the solution. I think we’d also like our young people to aim higher and get better paying jobs, but sometimes I think out of circumstance that’s not always possible. I guess the short answer is I really don’t know, but low-income wage earners are struggling. That I do know.

    • When I worked at Target seasonally, it paid me about $2 over minimum wage an hour. I could also purchase benefits.

      • Did you feel like that was an adequate wage and how were the benefits? When I worked for Walmart during optometry school, I think I was paid a bit over minimum wage, but I wasn’t eligible for benefits. It was fine for where I was at the time, but it would have been pretty meager if I’d been trying to support a family.

        • Yep. I did feel like I was paid fairly given that I was just a temporary cashier. I didn’t take the benefits, but I could see that it would be beneficial for some families to work a second job that gave them benefit options. I thought their healthcare sounded like a decent plan for low-wage workers. I think it was like $50 a month for me as an individual for health only.

    • I don’t know. When I shop at Kroger or Target, I never experience the level of poor customer service as I do at Walmart. I do know that Kroger offers decent benefits and maybe more chance for advancement? I think it’s always possible to aim higher, but you have to do it before you dropped out of school and had a couple of kids. It could still be done, but it’s hard enough to keep your head above water once you are in that situation.

  7. I’m not a fan of Walmart. It’s not just their pay scale but their company policies in general. If you get a chance I recommend watching the documentary “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices”. I do my best to avoid shopping there (or any other fast food joint for that matter).

  8. I am not a Walmart fan and only go there in a pinch, but mostly that had to do with the condition of the stores and the surliness of the employees. Maybe if they paid them better the place would be cleaner and friendlier and I wouldn’t mind shopping there. Hmmm…

    • You know Kroger and Target were also in the top ten worst paying employers, but I don’t feel the same apathy from their workers that I see at Walmart. Maybe benefits are better?

  9. We don’t have Walmart in NYC, apparently they are not allowed here. I think the politicians won’t allow them as they may hurt small business and the unions here accuse them of low wages. I do agree with your assessment that if a worker wants higher wages, they’ll have to learn a skill. When you are an unskilled worker, you often get market pay because there are plenty of other unskilled workers who will take that job. Recently in NYC, there were protests to pay fast food workers $15 an hour. That just doesn’t correspond with the workers’ skill set. A shopping development was scratched because the politicians wanted a minimum $12 an hour wage at the retail stores. One politician argued that no job is better than a low wage job. Really?

  10. Great post Kim! I don’t blame companies for what they do. They are there to provide a service and make money. The problem is that people these days are becoming more and more uneducated and can’t think for themselves. They hear that Walmart is not paying their workers enough, but they want everything so low cost. You raise their prices, they hate the company. They keep wages low, they hate the company. There is not escaping it for the likes of Walmart.

  11. Great post, Kim. I’m not a huge fan of Walmart but I agree – they are an easy target. Yes, the CEO makes a lot of money but I assume it’s reflective of the job he has done (or at least I hope so). We do like things cheap. And because we do that means we lose jobs that get sent to other countries where cheap labor is plentiful and our store workers don’t earn much to keep those prices low. It’s no-win fight. I agree that we, as parents, need to prepare our kids to thrive once they home. Education is certainly a part of that but also helping them desire and feel motivated to accomplish more. Too many kids who grow up poor think this is the best it is going to get but it doesn’t have to be that way either.

    • I think just going to school every day would solve lots of problems. We have a 60% graduation rate in our town, and most of those kids miss over 30 days of school a year before they drop out. That starts in elementary school. We need to do better as parents. There is no reason your kid shouldn’t be in school. At least it’s warm and they can get two meals a day. I’m not sure what the allure of keeping them home is.

  12. I’m all about the market setting wages for entry level jobs, but I guess the issue arises when your low wages are there and can exist because your employees receive government assistance to get by. McDonald’s is worse about this, as the profits of that company are astronomical and a study released that 52% of fast food workers are on some sort of public assistance, compared to 25% of the workforce alone (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-15/mcdonalds-low-wages-come-with-a-7-billion-side-of-welfare)

    When my tax dollars are supporting a profit-making machine to keep underpaying their workers, then I start to get a little angry. McDonald’s is the worst out of the bunch and it’s really sad to see how terrible they are at marketing in the lower-income neighborhood that I live in.

    • No kidding. If you’ve seen the documentary, Supersize Me, or something like that where the guy is showing pictures to elementary school kids. Barely none of them knew George Bush, who was President at the time. A few knew Jesus, but everyone knew Ronald McDonald. I do think it’s pretty sad when a company offers assistance on how to apply for welfare.

  13. You hit the nail on the head Kim. It is so easy to blame Wal-Mart, but at the end of the day it’s on us if we hate them. I know they don’t make it easy on themselves (especially after the food drive thing Karen touched on – I didn’t know whether to laugh or shake my head) but if we continue to shop there then it’s only going to continue. I have a somewhat similar post going up on Monday about if Black Friday is dead and the deal of more stores being open on Thanksgiving. Newsflash…if we shop on Thanksgiving, then we’re just as much to blame, if not more, in my opinion. Thanks for the mention, I appreciate it!

    • That’s the truth. I saw where Thanksgiving shopping was up a ton last year over the prior year, so much so that many more stores are opening on Thanksgiving. I get it. After sitting at home all day with your family, it’s nice to have something to do. I also know quite a few people who have to work on Thanksgiving, but they don’t mind because it’s time and a half. I’m not sure whether that’s right or wrong. Would they be happy to work on a major holiday if wages were better all the time, probably not.

  14. I don’t begrudge Wal-mart for their desire to make money. That is the essence of capitalism, which is one thing that makes our country great. Plus think of all the people that have been supplied with jobs because of Wal-mart’s existence. I think many people despise Wal-mart because as their business grew, they pretty much displaced many smaller mom-and-pop stores. I know some in my home town went out of business when they moved in. I don’t currently shop there because I don’t enjoy the shopping experience (quality of product, customer service issues) and I have many other choices in my area.

    • I do wish we had more choices. I would never go to Walmart if there was a reasonable competitor that was close. I already buy most household products at the grocery store, but they don’t sell everything there.

  15. Ah, Walmart and the never ending controversy it brings every time it enters a new town or city. I’m not a fan of Walmart and eventually I think they will be their own downfall. The bigger you get and the more people you annoy on the way up can create an anti-Walmart sentiment. Through peer pressure and horror stories generated from their own incompetence will eventually cause them to scale down. The one thing I’ve noticed here in Canada is the explosion of Dollar Stores, but what’s most mind boggling about the meteoric rise is the amount of people moaning about cheap Chinese imports.

    • I would like to have some more quality options for goods. It seems everything is made to break after a year or less. I seem to break a blender every 6 months, regardless of price.

  16. I worked at Walmart in high school and they really are “the bad guy.” The store I worked in closed at 10:00 p.m. and we always had to “face the shelves” until 10:45 or 11:00. Anyway, they would deduct the extra time from our time cards every single day and only pay us until 10:00 p.m. I was just a teenager so I didn’t really understand that they were ripping me off but there was eventually a class action lawsuit about it. Walmart lost, of course, and had to pay people a bunch of money. It’s bad enough to pay awful wages but it’s something completely different to knowingly and purposely rip people off. Walmart is disgusting.

  17. I totally agree with you. I’ve seen the documentary about walmart and how they treat employees and I think its wrong but at the same time people can’t try to make a career out of working at walmart. Seems like employees want to blame all their problemson walmart. Wakmart pats what they pay and it shouldnt b anyone’s permanent job solution.

  18. I think many of us take the easy way out most times now. Walmart might not pay super high wages, but think of all of the items they sell that people can buy that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford those things. Think of all of the jobs Walmart creates – not just in stores, but shipping jobs too. That’s not to say Walmart doesn’t get some blame – they just shouldn’t get it all.

  19. I feel one has to look at the big picture to see if society benefits or not from big boxes such as Walmart.

    Walmart brings lower prices and services to the consumer, especially lower income earners.
    Meanwhile mom and pops may suffer, and wages will be on the conservative side (low).
    There might be other negatives argued against Walmart but the bottom line is they bring in low prices.

    There are many more customers than there are mom and pop owners plus Walmart employees combined. Overall more people (the customers) are benefiting with more savings in their pockets.

    The alternative would be for customers to pay higher prices to subsidize small shop owners and their higher paid employees. Some communities are willing to do that and initiate no big-box laws.

    Santa Barbara, California is a prime example. The town is high end and the rich can afford the smaller pretty “personal” stores. But the lower income folks drive to Goleta to save money at Walmart, Kmart, Home Depot, Costco, etc. And they do so out of necessity.

    A business has no obligation to hire or pay high wages in the first place. A business, big or small, goes into business to serve the consumer and make money. The fact that they may need to hire employees is a business decision, not a social one.

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