Walmart is making a big deal about two moves it announced this week, for which it is demanding applause and gratitude. You could call it the Walmart private sector economic stimulus plan. The trouble is, it’s nothing but smoke and mirrors.
Walmart’s first contribution to the American economy is a pledge to buy an additional $50 billion in goods and services from American companies over the next 10 years. It seems like a lot until you run the numbers, which I am not the first to do. It works out to $5 billion a year, a drop in the bucket of more than $250 billion in goods and services that this modern leviathan buys each year. Walmart is making a big deal about what for them is a minor adjustment that will make but a minor ripple in the U.S. economy.
More odiously self-serving is Walmart’s announcement that it will hire 100,000 veterans, or every veteran who left the service with an honorable discharge this past year. Sounds like a great combination of patriotism and economic growth until you start to think about it. Walmart literally has more than 2.2 million employees. Between growth and turnover, in any given year it is going to be hiring 100,000 people as greeters, cashiers, stockers and other in-store positions. Walmart has not created a single job, it has just said that it would give special consideration to one demographic group—recent veterans.
I’m also not the first to point out that the type of job that virtually all these vets will get at Walmart is low pay and with minimal or no benefits and little chance for advancement. Is this the best that we can do for those who have risked their lives on the frontlines of the wars prosecuted in our names?
The most interesting aspect of the Walmart hiring veterans announcement is what it will do to the demographics of its workforce: In the overall economy, more than 50% of all jobs today are held by women, and yet women are only 20% of the armed forces and therefore about 20% of the veterans in any given year. The disparate impact of hiring veterans is that the Walmart workforce will begin to skewer towards the male. Given the many past and ongoing lawsuits accusing Walmart of discrimination against women, the focus on veterans could make one begin to wonder if Walmart’s motives were less than patriotic.
Like the executives of many large companies, Walmart’s leaders could easily get lost in the internal rhetoric of the company, which lauds itself with the inexorable regularity with which parents laud four year olds for finishing their plates and zipping up their flies after potty. These guys might actually get themselves to believe that it’s a big deal to bump up domestic purchases by a small amount or to focus hiring on one demographic group. And they probably thought the U.S. news media and public would believe it, too.
But it doesn’t matter how thickly Walmart’s public relations flaks paint the happy face on Walmart’s announcements. The news media and the public are more cynical after decades of seeing Walmart destroy small towns, bankrupt small business owners, squeeze suppliers and pay low wages.