When Walmart kicked off its US Manufacturing Summit on Tuesday, Walmart it posed as a friend of the American worker, a creator of US jobs and a force for reducing inequality.
But, as the American Manufacturing Association dutifully points out this week, we shouldn’t be fooled by the giant retailer’s newly populist rhetoric.
Walmart is aggressively highlighting its 2013 commitment to purchase an additional $250 billion worth of American-made goods by 2023, an action they said would create 1 million American jobs. But $250 billion over 10 years sounds much less impressive with the knowledge that Walmart netted $473 billion in sales in 2014. Put another way, the retailer is only promising to spend an additional 5 percent of its yearly sales on American-made products.
What’s more, in 2014 Walmart only created an additional 2,514 jobs on US soil – a mere 0.2 percent of its lofty goal.
Finally, Walmart is predicted to spend an additional $262 billion on American-made goods in the next 10 years regardless of its newly patriotic policy. Two-thirds of Walmart’s purchases come from the US – mainly because groceries make up 56 percent of its sales. The chain has averaged just under 3 percent annual growth for the last couple years, and if that trend continues for the next decade, $250 billion in additional purchases of American-made goods would actually be less that what should be expected.
Beyond the fact that this commitment is not nearly as meaningful as Walmart claims, its posing as an ally of American workers is unmasked by all it has done to destroy American jobs and depress wages.
Walmart is by far the largest importer in the country, and is a huge contributor to the 2.7 million jobs that were lost to China between 2001 and 2011. In the first five years of that period, from 2001 to 2006, Walmart alone was responsible for 133,000 jobs moving overseas, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
It also has a major impact on jobs that remain here at home. Because of its incredible market power, the retailer’s aggressive insistence on low prices at any cost has major effects on industries across the country, forcing companies to drastically cut workers’ wages and benefits if they are to compete.
These practices are also inefficient for the economy as a whole. Because its sellers are forced into razor-thin profit margins, they lack the necessary funds to invest in innovation. Rather than spend money to try to create better products, these companies’ best strategy is to just continue producing whatever Walmart is willing to purchase.
Walmart has also taken its assault on American workers into the political field, spending enormous sums lobbying for disastrous policies. In each of the past five years, it has spent nearly $7 million lobbying for corporate tax cuts, supporting trade agreements that serve its interests at the expense of workers and stopping a bill that would have guaranteed employees paid sick leave.
Instead of championing changes that would lift millions of American workers, Walmart uses its nearly $16 billion in annual profits to reward those at the top. An average low-level employee at Walmart is paid $9.34 an hour with minimum benefits – hardly a living wage. Meanwhile, the six members of the Walton family, who collectively own more than 50 percent of Walmart, are worth a combined $149 billion – more than the bottom 42 percent of the entire American workforce – and climbing.
Walmart is all talk when it comes to supporting American workers. Don’t believe its misleading claims.