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If Walmart Paid its 1.4 Million U.S. Workers a Living Wage, it Would Result in Almost No Pain for the Average Customer

The average Walmart customer would pay just 46 cents more per shopping trip, or around $12 extra dollars each year.

A study released this week found that if the nation's largest low-wage employer, Walmart, were to pay its 1.4 million U.S. workers a living wage of at least $12 per hour and pass every single penny of the costs onto consumers, the average Walmart customer would pay just 46 cents more per shopping trip, or around $12 extra dollars each year.

Consider that the next time you hear some corporate mouthpiece warning of massive job losses if some minimally progressive policy were enacted. You never see them arguing on the cable news shows that increasing the minimum wage will hurt Walmart’s or McDonald's bottom lines; it’s always about the jobs that will be destroyed. According to the ubiquitous spin, large corporations, the embodiments of American-style capitalism, are so vulnerable to the meddling of no-nothing bureaucrats that any government intervention into the “free market” drives corporations away to sunnier locales or threatens their very existence. However well intentioned, it all ends up costing workers their jobs.

But the new study, conducted by Ken Jacobs and Dave Graham-Squire at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and Stephanie Luce at CUNY's Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, suggests that low-wage employers could pay their workers a wage that would afford them a dignified existence without threatening their profitability.

Paying a fair wage would only result in a price hike of around 1 percent for Walmart shoppers. The researchers note that the increase would be “well below Walmart's estimated savings to consumers” – in other words, the big-box retailer could continue to offer “low prices” without impoverishing their workers. The study's authors noted that the 1 percent price hike was the “most extreme estimate, as portions of the raise could be absorbed through other mechanisms, including increased productivity or lower profit margins.”

While it would have a very minor impact on shoppers, it would have a profound effect on the economic security of Wal-Mart's workforce. More than 40 percent of the additional income would go to the working poor. “These poor and low-income workers could expect to earn an additional $1,670 to $6,500 a year in income for each Walmart employee in the family, before taxes,” write the authors. Meanwhile, while Walmart's customers are not exactly rich, those “who spend the most at the store are somewhat less likely to come from poor and low-income families.” As a result, only 28 percent of the additional costs would be paid by the poor and the near-poor.

Walmart and other low-wage employers are poster-children for free-market hypocrisy, claiming that the “market” dictates they pay poverty wages while shifting some of their labor costs onto the taxpayer. A 2004 study by the H ouse Committee on Education and the Workforce estimated that just one Walmart store with 200 “associates” costs taxpayers over $420,000 per year in government assistance to the poor.

The study squares with earlier research that found minimum wage increases to have little or no impact on unemploy ment. According to the Economic Policy Institute, studies have shown that “there is no evidence of job loss from previous minimum wage increases,” because “employers may be able to absorb some of the costs of a wage increase through higher productivity, lower recruiting and training costs, decreased absenteeism, and increased worker morale.”

Yet the idea that paying a decent wage kills jobs persists, as does the claim, made by the corporate right every single day, that high corporate taxes are driving jobs overseas. As I noted last month, he kernel of truth is that, at 35 percent, we do have one of the highest statutory corporate rates in the world – that is, the rate that's written down in the tax code.

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