In our new regular feature, we'll be taking a look at the villains who are doing their best to prevent the United States from raising wages for all or some Americans. We're going to try to take a look at more than just the usual suspects in these posts, and we'll probably stay away from government officials to give you a look at other key players who are part of the problem.
This week, our Low-Wage Villain of the Week is Rob Walton, chairman of Walmart. Rob Walton’s story is not what we think of as an inspirational, all-American success story. Choosing a rich father has unquestionably worked well for Rob. The Walton family sits on a net worth of more than $144 billion (more than the bottom of nearly 42% of Americans combined—yes, Rob, his siblings and mother are worth the same amount as 130 MILLION Americans), and Rob himself has a net worth of $35 billion.
So Rob has become the 14th richest person on the planet, despite the fact that the furthest he has gone from working for his dad’s company was working for a law firm that…did legal work for Walmart.
But, you might wonder, is he doing good work as chairman? His wealth increased by $305 million last year. But before you say he earned it, no…he really, really didn't. While the overall Standard & Poor's 500 index has gained 15% in the past year, Walmart shares fell 2.2%. In the first quarter of 2014, stocks were down 3% and customer traffic declined 1.4%. Second quarter projections don't show these trends changing. Advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. gave Walmart an 8 (on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the highest level of risk) and said that shareholders should vote against the company's executive compensation plan, Chairman Walton and director Michael Duke. And the company is dealing with numerous legal problems, including a $21 million settlement for wage theft, which isn't its first such settlement in recent years, and is being sued for illegally firing workers for union organizing.
So the company isn't exactly being run well, but Chairman Walton is very well compensated. Does Rob share that wealth? No, the employees in the company are some of the lowest paid of any large employer in the country. Walmart brags that its U.S. workforce averages pay of $12.78 an hour, but that number leaves out more than half of the company's workforce, such as part-time and temporary workers, and includes some managerial staff. The company admits that 500,000 of its workers earn less than $10 an hour. Numerous job websites report the average pay for Walmart employees to be less than $10, ranging from $8.63 (Glassdoor) to $9.64 (PayScale).
In any event, the wages are low enough that many of the company's workers receive government benefits designed to help the poor. It is estimated that Walmart employees received $6.2 billion in public assistance last year.
For getting rich off of his father, and staying rich by impoverishing and mistreating his workers rather than hard or innovative work, Rob Walton is our Low-Wage Villain of the Week.