Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs

Wal-Mart is the largest employer in the United States, with over one million workers. It is the largest food retailer and the third largest pharmacy in the nation. The company employs approximately 44,000 workers in California, and has plans to expand significantly in the state over the next four years. Wal-Mart workers receive lower wages than other retail workers and are less likely to have health benefits. Other major retailers have begun to scale back wages and benefits in the state, citing their concerns about competition from Wal-Mart.

We estimate that Wal-Mart workers in California earn on average 31 percent less than workers employed in large retail as a whole, receiving an average wage of $9.70 per hour compared to the $14.01 average hourly earnings for employees in large retail (firms with 1,000 or more employees). In addition, 23 percent fewer Wal-Mart workers are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance than large retail workers as a whole. The differences are even greater when Wal-Mart workers are compared to unionized grocery workers. In the San Francisco Bay Area, non-managerial Wal-Mart employees earn on average $9.40 an hour, compared to $15.31 for unionized grocery workers—39 percent less—and are half as likely to have health benefits.

At these low-wages, many Wal-Mart workers rely on public safety net programs—such as food stamps, Medi-Cal, and subsidized housing—to make ends meet. The presence of Wal-Mart stores in California thus creates a hidden cost to the state’s taxpayers. This study is the first to quantify the fiscal costs of Wal-Mart’s substandard wages and benefits on public safety net programs in California. It also explores the potential impact on public programs of Wal-Mart’s competitive effect on industry standards