Regarding whether or not Juneau should welcome Wal-Mart, it's interesting to read about Wal-Mart employment in California. The Labor Center at University of California-Berkeley conducted a study (access it online at laborcenter.berkeley.edu/lowwage/walmart.pdf) that compared Wal-Mart employees with other large retail employees. It concluded that California's Wal-Mart employees earn 31 percent less than other large retail workers ($9.70 versus $14.01 per hour) and are 23 percent less likely to be covered by employer health insurance.
These workers and their families use 40 percent more Medicaid (state-sponsored health insurance) and 38 percent more non-health public assistance such as food stamps, subsidized school lunches, subsidized rent. These benefits cost the state of California taxpayers $86 million per year. It's hard not to wonder if the Wal-Mart business plan includes a public subsidy.
I appreciate a good deal as much as anyone but, generally, when cheap goods are available en masse, somebody pays with low wages, whether it's the person off-shore who produces the goods or the person right here in our town who rings us up. When it's the person at the cash register, the state may also be paying in increased public assistance. An unquantifiable but profound additional cost is the stress that results from living and raising children in poverty.
If we're going to encourage big box stores to come to Juneau, let's go for those that offer workers wages they can live on and health insurance for their families. If that's not enough to sell you on that choice, remember the hidden costs that accrue to the state - aka you and me - when products are that good a deal.
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