On yesterday’s Bulls and Bears, the panel discussed Black Friday protests at Wal-Mart stores over low wages. Not surprisingly, the “fair and balanced” panel was mostly on the side of Wal-Mart. Host Brenda Buttner seemed to get all her “facts” from a Wal-Mart press release. Her opening “question,’ which she asked twice, was whether or not the fight was really about “wage rage” or about “trying to boost union membership.”
Later, in the middle of the discussion, Brenda Buttner said, “Wal-Mart does pay a lot more than the minimum wage.”
Guest David Mercer (who did a terrific job arguing the other side) said, “They pay some workers above the minimum wage, but the majority of their workers are paid below that or at the minimum wage.”
“No, no, that’s not true,” Buttner told Mercer. “Those numbers are wrong, I’m sorry. The majority are - $12.83 is one of the average wages.”
In fact, that figure is in dispute. As Josh Eidelson, recently wrote in Salon.com:
As I’ve reported, how much Wal-Mart currently pays U.S. employees is a contentious question. The company pegs its average hourly wage at $12.78, but that figure includes managers and excludes workers who aren’t full-time. Drawing on 2011 IBISworld data and GlassDoor.com surveys, OUR Walmart activists have pegged the wage at less than $9 per hour. Like Demos, they’ve called for a wage floor of $25,000 a year. OUR Walmart is closely tied to the United Food & Commercial Workers union. After Wal-Mart’s U.S. CEO said in a Goldman Sachs presentation that over 425,000 employees make more than $25,000 annually, OUR Walmart seized on the comment as an implicit admission that the majority make less.
Panelist Jon Layfield insisted, “I think he’s entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. The facts are the facts, and Wal-Mart does pay people on average more than comparable retailers.”
Mercer shot back, “Then why are they on food stamps, Jon?”
Layfield said it's because they were “entry level positions.”
“At low wages,” Mercer replied.
In fact, Bloomberg columnist Barry Ritholtz notes:
Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private sector employer, is also the biggest consumer of taxpayer supported aid. According to Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, in many states, Wal-Mart employees are the largest group of Medicaid recipients. They are also the single biggest group of food stamp recipients. Wal-mart’s “associates” are paid so little, according to Grayson, that they receive $1,000 on average in public assistance. These amount to massive taxpayer subsidies for private companies.
“Why is it up to Wal-Mart to raise the standard of living?” panelist Tracy Byrnes whined.
They should all go work at Wal-Mart and see what it’s like to live on those wages.