04/19/2017

No Institution Or Agency Has Done More To Help The Poor Than Walmart

John Tierney, City Journal

If budget-cutters in Washington decided to eliminate food-stamp benefits to New Yorkers, the city’s politicians would be denouncing the cruelty of the “Republican war on the poor.” Yet Mayor Bill De Blasio and the city council are already inflicting the same sort of pain on low-income New Yorkers by denying them access to one of the nation’s most effective anti-poverty programs: Walmart.

When he was mayor, Michael Bloomberg supported Walmart’s efforts to open a store in New York, but the company faced unremitting resistance from unions and elected officials, and it gave up the fight once de Blasio moved into Gracie Mansion. “I have been adamant that I don’t think Walmart—the company, the stores—belong in New York City,” de Blasio said.

Walmart’s benefits are obvious to shoppers and to economists like Jason Furman, who served in the Clinton administration and was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Obama. In a paper, “Walmart: A Progressive Success Story,” Furman cited estimates that Walmart, by driving down prices, saved the typical American family more than $2,300 annually. That was about the same amount that a family on food stamps then received from the federal government.

How could any progressive with a conscience oppose an organization that confers such benefits? How could de Blasio and the city council effectively take money out of the pockets of the poorest families in New York? Because—though they would deny it—they care a lot more about pleasing powerful labor interests, especially the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which helped lead the long fight to keep Walmart out of the five boroughs.

Labor activists have been spreading horror stories for more than a decade about Walmart’s purported mistreatment of workers, yet somehow they haven’t dissuaded thousands of people in other cities from lining up for jobs whenever a Walmart opens. Often there are five or ten applicants for each job. As the economist Richard Vedder has noted, the pay at Walmart is comparable with that of other large retailers.

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