Let it snow and Walmart Rant

View from our front door 12/27/07 7:00 AM. We already have about 8-10″ on the ground and another 6″ is expected today.

First, I’d like to give you a little sugar before the rant; although not all of you reading this would consider snow sugar. But, it is pretty to look at and we seem to be having a “normal” winter here in these parts of Colorado which is a good thing. What about global warming? Actually, I believe in global warming and it’s related to my rant on a documentary I finished watching last night.

If you haven’t seen it, I recommend renting/borrowing Walmart: The high cost of low price if you have the stomach for it. It’s a documentary style movie that exposes many of the perils of living in a community where Walmart locates and the tremendous human cost of its global reach.

Have I ever shopped at Walmart? Yes, and I even had a SAM’s Club (a Walmart subsidiary) membership at one time. I canceled our SAM’s membership about 4 years ago because of my growing “Shop Local” philosophy. If you haven’t tuned me out by now, read on….

Yes, I like to save money like everyone else, but I’ve come to realize that it carries a high price tag with big corporations like Walmart. I know, I shouldn’t just pick on Walmart – because you could probably insert any large big box store name in its place and the same conditions apply. It all started a few years ago when I became disillusioned with selling handmade pottery. I would go into my local SAM’s club or even Target and I would find beautiful handmade pottery imported from Asia for a very reasonable price. A set of 4 plates for $9.99 or so.

I started thinking, if SAM’s imported the pottery and paid all the applicable duties, and paid a wholesale cost to the factory who manufactures the pottery, then what kind of salary is the actual potter making after the factory owner takes his cut? Probably pennies a day. One could argue that their cost of living is less expensive which justifies a lower wage. After seeing the Walmart movie and the interviews with some of the Chinese, Indian and Guatemalan workers, some are working 7 days a week, 12 hours a day, live in dorms and are charged rent which is deducted from their paychecks for the privilege of working at a Walmart factory . Doesn’t sound ideal to me – so that I, as an American, can buy a set of 4 plates at a cheap price. In fact, it sounds down right unethical to me and doesn’t smack of being a good global citizen.

As an American and an artist who makes wares out of clay, I can’t compete with work being sold at places like Walmart. I couldn’t even buy the raw materials to make the plates for $9.99! Some have argued that the folks who shop at Walmart are not my target audience and that is true to a certain extent, but their practices have set up the expectation for consumers to look for the best price. Independent artisans and businesses are losing business to places like Walmart. In true Walmart fashion, I should close my business and become an associate for Walmart at an hourly rate of $7.00/hr. Can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Now, granted, it’s always prudent to read the author’s bias before making your own decisions on where to spend your money these days. I apologize for going on a bender, but I feel passionate about the topic. Money talks and we have a responsibility to our community to support a sustainable living for everyone. Sounds crunchy doesn’t it? I’m getting all warm and fuzzy just thinking about the possibilities.

To play devil’s advocate, I watched a PBS Frontline special a few months ago on the exportation of not just production type jobs, but also more skilled computer and call center jobs. The producers argued that it’s all a part of a dynamic economic business cycle. The “experts” asserted that America and other developed countries will respond to the changing times by innovating new ideas and technologies that will once again advance our economies which is good news for all the upper middle class + citizens who check the progress of their stock portfolios every day. But, what about your local farmer, shop owner, widget maker, artist etc.?

It’s sort of ironic that many of the same people who shop at Walmart are contributing to their own woes of lost jobs, suppressed wages and lack of health insurance. Looking for the lowest price sometimes does more harm than good. I should quantify that I have family members who shop at Walmart too, so I’m not out to defame anyone. As a company, Walmart has successfully brain washed our country into thinking that they are good for families and America. So what are we to do, or more specifically what am I going to do?

I have already vowed to do my part by putting my money where my mouth is. With the exception of some digital photo frames and some games for my daughter, I either made my own gifts this year for Christmas or I purchased them from an independent store or artisan. But, it’s not stopping there. I am going to be more sensitive towards everything I do, from the foods that I buy, to the environmental aspects of my clay business, to making sound decisions on where I choose to shop. I’m going to continue recycling, conserving where I can and will shun big box stores in favor of local businesses.

So, what about global warming, and how does it relate? It goes hand in hand with my shop local/independent philosophy of being conscious of my actions and how it might affect our world in the long run. Maybe global warming will end up being a stretch, but is it really necessary to have a vehicle for every member of your family? Is it okay to litter or pollute the environment? Is it okay to…. Feel free to shoot me a terse email if you really detest being lectured or feel differently. I appreciate open dialog. But, more than anything, I hope that a little part of my rant resonated with you. The good news is that many communities, including a local Denver suburb, have recently voted to deny Walmart’s presence, now that people can see the affect of the business on U.S. communities.

Clip from, “Confessions of a Walmart hitman”

Here’s some cold hard statistics:

  • “A recent study by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Labor Center has quantified what happened to retail wages when Wal-Mart set up shop, drawing on 15 years of data on actual store openings. The study found that Wal-Mart drives down wages in urban areas, with an annual loss of at least $3 billion dollars in earnings for retail workers.” Source: Arindrajit Dube, “Impact of Wal-Mart Growth on Earnings throughout the Retail Sector in Urban and Rural Counties” [PDF File], UC Berkeley Labor Center, November 2005.
  • In the State of Florida alone, 12,300 WAL-MART Workers and their Dependents are on Medicaid. “Wal-Mart Corp., which is getting millions of dollars in state incentives to create jobs in Florida, has more employees and family members enrolled in Medicaid than any company in the state. …The giant retailer, which has 91,000 full-time and part-time employees in Florida, has about 12,300 workers or dependents eligible for Medicaid, the growing health care program for the poor and the elderly…According to figures released Thursday by Florida’s Department of Children and Families, Wal-Mart and four other large companies that receive state incentives have an estimated 29,900 employees or their family members enrolled in Medicaid…The figures suggest taxpayers may be double-subsidizing low-wage employment by paying companies to create jobs and by paying for the health care of some of those companies’ employees.”
    * Source: Sydney P. Freedberg and Connie Humburg, “Lured Employers Now Tax Medicaid,” St. Petersburg Times, March 25, 2005.
  • $50 MILLION to settle an off-the-clock class action suit in Colorado. In 2000, “Wal-Mart paid $50 million to settle a class-action suit that asserted that 69,000 current and former Wal-Mart employees in Colorado had worked off the clock.” Source: Steven Greenhouse, “Suits Say Wal-Mart Workers Forced To Toil Off The Clock,” New York Times, June 25, 2002 [reprinted via Common Dreams]
  • Federal Poverty Level Family of Four – $17,650. Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001 Federal Poverty Guidelines. Average Wal-Mart Hourly Sales Employee Wages – $13,861

Want to read more Walmart fun facts?

Humbly yours,