Gospel Meets the Christian Gospel:
A Theological Analysis of Wal-Mart Remuneration Practices
some Americans, the opening of a Wal-Mart sale on Black Friday amounted
to a matter of life and death. Several minutes prior to the scheduled
5:00 AM opening time, over 2,000 bargain hunters charged the doors of a
New York Wal-Mart, trampling a thirty-four year-old employee to death as
he and several other co-workers attempted to open the doors. The scope
of the catastrophe widened as emergency workers rushed four other
shoppers, including a twenty-eight year old pregnant customer, to a
nearby hospital for injury treatment. Despite prolonged investigative
efforts, assigning responsibility to any particular party for this
tragedy remains a complex task. Nassau county police say that Wal-Mart
lacked sufficient security, yet store representatives contend that they
had taken precautionary safety measures prior to the stampede by
enlisting the assistance of backup security. Nassau police also
reported that, based on security camera footage, the individual
perpetrators responsible for physically stomping on the victim acted
intentionally. Further complicating the matter, the crowd itself
behaved shockingly, one witness describing them as “savages.” Even
after police informed shoppers of the fatality of the Wal-Mart employee,
customers vehemently resisted attempts by security to clear the
premises, screaming such protestations as, “I’ve been in line since
may seem to require that a particular party be held accountable for this
completely avoidable catastrophe, but sorting through this ethical
quagmire makes reaching some sort of just resolution virtually
impossible. Compounding this frustration is the somber realization that
the ambiguity that hindered Nassau County police’s ability to bring
justice to this tragedy, typifies society’s relationship with Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart has become a lightning rod of societal conflict, and debate,
with poll results indicating the American people have deeply divided
attitudes towards this multinational retailer.
Yet responsible citizens, and in particular responsible Christians,
cannot simply resign themselves to an ambivalent attitude given the
unfathomable magnitude and influence of this corporate giant. Wal-Mart
currently holds the title of the world’s largest corporation and largest
with more Americans sporting the Wal-Mart blue smock than the U.S. army
One-third of Americans shop at Wal-Mart each week, and in 2003,
eighty-two percent of households purchased merchandise from this
Not only does Wal-Mart touch millions of lives on a personal level, to
some degree the economic health of the entire world economy hinges upon
the success of its largest retailer. This past year, Wal-Mart ranked as
the fifth most profitable organization,
and its sales volume for a single day came in ahead of the gross
domestic products of thirty-six countries.
its global significance, Wal-Mart’s behavior constitutes a vital
component in any discussion of economic justice. More specifically, a
Christian based analysis of this company requires a theological
examination of the way in which Wal-Mart’s conduct affects the wellbeing
of God’s creation and God’s creatures. Concerns include the way in
which Wal-Mart’s activities affect the environment, retail demographics
of local communities,
international labor conditions, and fair treatment of minority groups.
One issue of special concern to Christians is an examination of
Wal-Mart’s employee remuneration policies. The level at which Wal-Mart
compensates its workforce influences its other business practices,
including the issues mentioned above. Moreover, Christian thinkers have
previously concerned themselves with the importance of adequate
compensation, making this avenue of analysis a pertinent staring point.
Christian Standards for Just Compensation
the slums of the industrial poor at the turn of the century to
modern-day inner city Chicago streets, various Christian thinkers have
fought against exploitative pay practices. John A. Ryan broke new
ground in 1907 with the publication of his dissertation, in which he
explicitly outlined and formalized the form such just remuneration
practices would take. Based on the God-given sanctity of personhood,
Ryan insisted that every laborer has the right “to at least a decent
livelihood: that is, he has a right to so much of the requisites of
sustenance as will enable him to live in a manner worthy of a human
Ryan’s fellow pioneer social justice advocate Walter Rauschenbusch
shared this appreciation for the value of individual persons and
consequentially, a concern for just pay practices. Rauschenbusch’s
conception of the Kingdom of God, informed by his pastoral experiences
with New York immigrants stricken by poverty in the 1880s, highlighted
the intrinsic worth of persons, for he recognized that “Jesus worked on
individuals and through individuals.”
He believed that the Kingdom could not be realized until justice had
been actualized for all individuals for “the perfection of human society
cannot be attained without changed lives to attain it.”
For Rauschenbusch, fair wages constituted a manifestation of justice on
the personal level in that an unjust pay practice “breaks down
[workers’] nerves, their mental buoyancy, and their character.”
understanding of the denigrating effects of unjust compensation policies
highlights an implicit feature in Ryan’s discussion of a decent
livelihood. Rauschenbusch recognized the disastrous consequences
unjust compensation had on laborer’s health, describing the deaths that
slum conditions caused as “preventable decimation of the people” and
He expressed a clear concern for the health of the working poor, as
demonstrated by his prayer “For Doctors and Nurses” and the
“Tuberculosis Day Prayer”
and relentlessly promoted other health provisions for laborers. While
Ryan primarily focused on grounding his more generalized living wage
doctrine in theology rather than delving into specifics, his conception
of just pay clearly incorporated a worker’s health as a key tenet. For
both Ryan and Rauschenbusch, then, a truly just remuneration practice
requires a wage that allows workers to live a healthy existence, or as
Ryan states, a wage “sufficient to maintain the worker in normal
to these social justice pioneers’ conception of just pay practices is an
appreciation for the worker’s physical condition. Using this
understanding of a causal relationship between wage and health as a
springboard for ethical analysis, modern day theologians have more
explicitly defined a living wage as salary pay that ensures adequate
health care coverage for the laborer. For instance, Professor Judith
Brady interprets Ryan’s justice claim of personal worth within a
contemporary American Christian context, describing the justice
standard for a living wage as “a kind of fairness as demonstrated by a
desire for all of us to live freely and to have fairly equal
opportunities to provide for the basic necessities for ourselves,
specifically… affordable health care.”
Likewise, living wage activist Professor Christine Firer Hinze advocates
a Christian conception of just pay practices that “explicitly extends
wage to mean the whole remuneration given the worker. Benefits,
insurance…may augment cash wages to form a sum total that may be deemed
a living wage.”
Rightly understood, say these women, any wage that fails to secure
adequate health care coverage for the laborer falls short of the
Christian justice standard.
Wal-Mart: Save Money, Live Better? Societal Good verses Individual
these defining standards as a guide, an analysis of what precisely
constitutes just remuneration and health care benefits for Wal-Mart
workers should also recognize unique factors that characterize this
corporate behemoth. One such feature complicates a Christian discussion
of just remuneration policies: Wal-Mart delivers substantial overall
social benefits in the form of low prices. The Bureau of Economic
Research now credits Wal-Mart with driving down the inflation rate by
upwards of fifteen percent, meaning that all Americans substantially
profit from its low pricing commitment.
In particular, some of the main beneficiaries of Wal-Mart’s low prices
are the poor who, without Wal-Mart, would not be able to afford many of
the products it stocks. Global Insights, an international research
firm, claims that Wal-Mart’s expansion has caused a 9.1 percent decrease
in food-at-home prices and has lowered the price of all other goods by
approximately 3.1 percent.
Ostensibly, then, Wal-Mart’s growth has caused an increase in the
standard of living for many people. President Barack Obama’s chief economic advisor,
Jason Furman, estimated that Wal-Mart’s low prices saves the average
household approximately $2,329 annually, describing Wal-Mart as “a
progressive success story.”
Given the church’s continued concern for the poor and the less powerful,
the benefits that Wal-Mart brings in the form of material distribution
presumably counts for something.
social good Wal-Mart achieves on behalf of the poor and its
redistribution of gains in the form of lower prices, the question
remains: how does a Christian-based ethic sort through this myriad of
competing interests given contemporary living wage standards? Should
the collective societal good Wal-Mart achieves trump any discussion of
adequate compensation for its employees? In dealing with such troubling
questions, one should remember individual dignity. Here, John Ryan’s
observation that a “singular emphasis upon social welfare does not
account for individuals as the ends in themselves,” provides a helpful
Distinguishing between individual and social welfare safeguards the
dignity of the individual and helps to protect against the degeneration
of ethical analysis into a form of crass utilitarianism. Similarly,
Rauschenbusch, with his commitment to the kingdom of God, believes that
“the social nature of the kingdom requires that justice aim to form
social institutions that encourage individual development.”
A Christian examination of Wal-Mart’s wage practices may therefore
insist upon the individual dignity of each employee rather than the
broad maximization social benefits. Without such respect for the
particular person, there is little to prevent a downward slide into the
oppression of employees.
The Economics of It All
appreciation for the individual justifies a restricted investigation
into whether Wal-Mart’s wage rate sufficiently allows for a worker’s
well-being in society. The salary of CEO Doug McMillon can greatly
exceed that of a given employee, so long as the standard wage for
workers sufficiently respects their dignity as created beings endowed
with the God-given right to a decent living and benefits. Wal-Mart
executives proudly proclaim that their average full-time hourly wage
comes in at approximately $11.24, reaching almost $12 in cities such as
New York, Boston, and San Francisco.
Nevertheless, the company refuses to disclose the average employees’
starting salary. Based on payroll data from 2001, analysts believe
that the beginning salary figure probably ranges around $7 per hour.
Although Wal-Mart raised its starting pay by six percent in 2006, this
minor hike applied to only one-third of its retail locations and
Wal-Mart introduced salary caps on associate positions.
Furthermore, only approximately sixty percent of Wal-Mart workers
qualify as full-time employees, meaning that about fifty percent of all
associates do not meet the criteria for these higher pay rates.
Finally, the company’s ambiguous definition of full-time, which ranges
from thirty-four to forty hours per week, means that an employee who
qualifies for full-time pay may still only earn a mere $17,680 a year.
salary figures have direct bearing on a Wal-Mart employees’ ability to
purchase health care. In an embarrassing memo that was leaked to the
press in 2005, the Executive Vice President of Wal-Mart’s People
Division admitted that, “On average, Associates spend 8 percent of their
income on healthcare (premiums plus deductibles plus out-of-pocket
expenses) for themselves and their families, nearly twice the national
Even after Wal-Mart’s massive 2008 campaign to revamp its program in
response to its vocal critics, only fifty percent of Wal-Mart workers
had signed up for its plan. In addition, part-time workers cannot
register for health care until after they have completed a year of
service, making many of Wal-Mart’s employees ineligible.
The 2006 introduction of salary caps was in part an attempt to eliminate
workers who traditionally consume the largest amount of Wal-Mart’s heath
care benefits: loyal, middle aged employees, usually women.
these figures against the Christian conception of a living wage, the
salary Wal-Mart pays its workers falls short of the mark. Clearly, the
current wage does not honor Wal-Mart workers’ personal development and
it stifles their participation as individuals in society. In this
investigation, an online tool supported by Pennsylvania State
University’s Living Wage Project provides a helpful guide by listing
economic living wage estimates for thousands of communities across the
country. These living wage figures take into account health insurance
expenses, as projected by the Consumer Expenditure Survey. According to
this Living Wage Calculator, the per-hour salary necessary to meet the
minimal life necessities in Charlotte, North Carolina is approximately
$8.73 per hour. The current wage of many Wal-Mart employees falls well
below this benchmark. From a more macroeconomic vantage point,
economists estimate that the aggregate annual income of a full-time
Wal-Mart employee is approximately $17,600 a year.
 Moreover, the annual income of an individual
compensated by a living wage comes in at $18,152.40,
well above Wal-Mart’s average figure. Even more disturbing, using very
conservative estimates as approximations, a newly hired Wal-Mart
employee can expect to earn approximately $14,560 annually.
Not only does this figure fall far below the recommended living wage
value, but it also only marginally clears the abject poverty standard
for an individual of $11,201.
seminal study recently conducted at the University of California at
Berkeley supports the conclusion that in the interest of justice,
Christians concerned with the dignity of workers should protest and
criticize Wal-Mart’s current wage rate. The study, “A Downward Push: The
Impact of Wal-Mart Stores on Retail Wages and Benefits,” concludes that
after controlling for other economic growth factors, Wal-Mart’s entrance
into a community causes lower paying jobs to replace higher paying
positions and simultaneously drives the aggregate wage rate down in
rival industries. This study also found that during the 1990s, a time
during which Wal-Mart’s stores grew by upwards of forty percent, average
wages for workers fell by ten percent and health care coverage by five
With Wal-Mart’s decisions affecting the overall salary and health care
coverage for workers in the service sector, a concern for Wal-Mart’s
wages translates into a concern for social justice in general.
Theology Meets Policy: Recommendations for Wal-Mart
far, a Christian analysis of Wal-Mart’s wage rate has demonstrated that
its current value does not satisfactorily meet the prerequisites that
characterize a “decent livelihood.” In response to this conclusion, the
next logical question becomes what precise living wage policy
would satisfactorily meet the needs of Wal-Mart workers. In addressing
this first question, the study “Living Wage Policies and Wal-Mart,”
conducted at the University of California at Berkeley, provides helpful
information as to the practical possibility of implementing a living
wage policy. Their findings confirm that not only is the Christian
conception of a just wage spiritually desirable; it is economically
feasible as well. According to their results, if Wal-Mart unilaterally
increased all employees’ pay to ten dollars per hour (including
part-time associates), “nearly half of the pay increase would go to
workers in families with total incomes below 200 percent of the federal
poverty level…these poor and low income workers could expect to earn an
additional $1,020 to $4,640 a year.”
Even if Wal-Mart passed on this increase in wages entirely to the
consumer in the form of price markups, an unlikely occurrence, this
would amount to a price increase of a mere $1.47 per shopping trip.
Not only do these findings debunk Wal-Mart’s defensive argument that the
implementation of a wage increase for all associates would hurt the
welfare of society, they also point the way towards realistic reform and
confirm the feasibility of my recommendations on the basis of Christian
social justice convictions.
Furthermore, if Wal-Mart raised all associates’ wages to ten dollars per
hour, this would make health care coverage for all employees a feasible
option. According to the 2008 Consumer Expenditure Report, a report
sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spent
approximately $1,190.40 on health insurance in 2008.
If any given Wal-Mart worker followed this national expenditure pattern,
they could expect to spend approximately 5.7 percent of their annual
income on health insurance.
This figure reflects the national average,
and represents a definite improvement over the nearly eight percent that
the average associate currently spends.
such a wage increase would make health care affordable for employees,
the next issue of concern is whether Wal-Mart’s health care coverage
itself adequately meets a Christian justice standard. A worker may be
able to meet the expense demands of one of Wal-Mart’s health care
options, yet this is of little consequence if the plan does not
adequately meet the employee’s health needs. Failure to consider whether
a worker has health insurance that provides adequate coverage turns
living wage analysis into mere minimum wage legislation. Even though
Wal-Mart offers a variety of different plans, each follows the same
basic philosophy that characterizes Wal-Mart’s business model: always,
always low costs. Wal-Mart utilizes Bush’s health-care model that
combines Health Security Accounts (HSAs) with high deductibles. In this
arrangement, companies contribute several hundred dollars to an HSA that
pays for two to three doctor visits per year. The routine procedures
that a doctor might order, however, are not covered by this fund. In
return for not funding routine procedures, companies can instead offer
lower premiums and cover high insurance deductibles.
Wal-Mart has done just that, covering few everyday medical expenditures,
yet paying for catastrophic health care expenses that could bankrupt
employees. For instance, Wal-Mart pays 100 percent of medical charges
above $1,750 a year and remains dedicated to a no lifetime cap on such
payments. Even though this crisis care treatment may seem amazing given
the low monthly payments recipients pay, Professor Nelson Lichtenstein
is quick to point out a sinister side of this arrangement. He
highlights the fact that the high deductibles such plans inflict on
employees place an expense burden on the “medical issues that families
are sure to face on an annual basis: well-baby care, vaccinations,
immunizations, adult checkups, ear infections, dental and eye care,
muscle strains, and the like.”
Theologians and Christian thinkers alike have discussed the implications
of both crisis and preventative care, specifically in relation to
contemporary political debates. Stephen E. Lammers and Allen Verhey,
coeditors of On Moral Medicine surmise that if “we increased
funding for all critical care; then we would have less for the care of
retarded and handicapped people, less for preventative medicine.”
Likewise, a feature article in The Christian Century notes that,
“When we attend too little to primary, preventive and mental health
care, the cost of acute care increases: we mistarget funds, and we fail
to empower people to take responsibility for their own health.”
On the other hand, faith convictions also justify critical care
intervention. Protestant writer Gene Outka believes distributive
justice mandates that, given the random and often unmerited nature of
tragic illnesses, “critical health care emergencies [have] an immediacy
and urgency that distinguished them from other sorts of deprivation.”
The National Council of Churches shares this appreciation for need-based
treatment, insisting that, “unless the legislation gives adequate
attention to the most poor and sick, health care reform
legislation will not be worthy of the name.”
Even this wide-ranging and unsystematic survey demonstrates theological
justification for both preventative and crisis care intervention.
This realization highlights the fact that Christians do not necessarily
conceive of critical and preventative care as competing choices. While
particular faith-based groups may stress one avenue over the other,
virtually no Christian conception of justice willingly advocates one of
these two treatment paths at the expense of totally abandoning the other
method of care.
light of this appreciation for both preventative and crisis care
treatment, an evaluation of Wal-Mart’s current health insurance
philosophy exposes the ethical problems associated with its current
plan. Wal-Mart fails to meet a Christian justice standard in that the
corporation essentially drops preventative care treatment out of the
health care equation. Unlike Christian thinkers, Wal-Mart’s policy
makes an either-or choice between preventative and crisis care. Wal-Mart
contends that preventative care is too expensive and that the associated
health care costs could jeopardize the financial stability of the
company. The chief architect of Wal-Mart’s health care policy has
stressed that, “if Wal-Mart goes out of business because of health care,
we won’t have accomplished anything in terms of helping people.”
Despite this cry, since Wal-Mart adopted its health care plan the
company has saved between 400 and 700 million dollars per year.
Ultimately, a living wage movement can reasonably ascertain that this
current system fails to meet a Christian justice standard, yet what
precise measures should be adopted requires further economic analysis.
Additionally, more questions remain in relation to living wage pay at
Wal-Mart in that thus far, an analysis of Wal-Mart’s remuneration
policies has considered the situation of employees as self-supporting
individuals. Despite this simplifying assumption, many laborers work to
support not only themselves, but to procure a decent life for family
dependents as well. From early constructions of living wage principles
to its modern-day formations, all have called for a salary figure that
would allow a single wage earner to support his/her family. Ryan
believed that persons “cannot live well-balanced lives, cannot attain a
reasonable degree of self-development outside the married state.”
Likewise, Professor Christine Firer Hinze’s also advocates for a family
living wage, as does the National Council of Churches, with The
Social Creed for the 21st Century calling for “a
family-sustaining living wage…with time and benefits to enable full
Adopting this understanding of a family living wage would nearly double
the figure Wal-Mart would have to pay an employee. For example, in the
Charlotte area, a living wage that would support a family consisting of
two adults and two children equates to $26.96 per hour. If a Christian
ethical definition of just compensation stipulates that only by paying a
familial living wage does Wal-Mart honor employees’ individual
integrity, then this would mean that in areas such as Washington D.C.
any given Wal-Mart employee would earn upwards of $30.76 per hour.
Should Wal-Mart associates be compensated according to these benchmark
seeming ethical quagmire, Professor Dennis McCann offers some
elucidating advice. In response to whether Wal-Mart should pay
employees a family living wage, McCann concludes that the corporation
should. Yet here he draws an important distinction between should
and could. He finds a family living wage standard “virtually
impossible to meet given the way the US economy is currently
structured.” He believes that living wage advocates use this family
benchmark as, “a bargaining chip in order to raise consciousness about
the problem and to move the minimum wage higher and closer to that
target, a target they know is most likely never to be reached.”
It is here, in between should and could, that Christians must look for
a discernable standard for what family wage rate they should push for.
Perhaps the proper living wage exists between ‘the should’ of a family
living wage and ‘the could’ of a wage that supports an individual. In
accordance with this third option, a family living wage becomes sort of
a moral target.
The Cost of Low Prices
Christian devotion to the spiritual demands of the Gospel and the
practical consequences of human existence makes reaching a
straightforward, unambiguous answer to the question of what should
constitute a just Wal-Mart wage and health care plan difficult. Yet,
believers can reasonably ascertain that the current rate does not
adequately meet a Christian standard. The intractable problem of
limited financial and medical resources and unlimited claims on such
resources makes explaining away all tensions virtually impossible. Dr.
Andrew Lustig, in an article detailing conflicting health care policy
choices, concludes that, “the level at which we draw the connection
between faith and policy is likely to be in terms of discernment,
motivation, and empowerment, rather than of specific prescriptions.
Living wage advocates may never formulate a cohesive recommendation
detailing precisely what would constitute a just remuneration practice
at Wal-Mart. Such a realization, however, does not mean that a
commitment to this goal should be abandoned. Even Rauschenbusch, the
eternal optimist, recognized that the Kingdom is always coming and also
understood the sacrifice and frustration that necessarily characterize
incremental change. Yet, despite slow progress, he insisted that
humanity could and would take real steps towards true justice.
Robert D. McFadden and Angela Macropoulos, “A Crowd Seeking Holiday
Deals, and a Rush for the Door That Turned Fatal,” New York Times,
Nov. 29, 2008: A16,
September 19, 2009]
Karen Pike, “Americans Split Over Wal-Mart,” MSNBC
Business, Dec. 1 , 2005, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10283165/
[accessed September 18, 2009].
Charles Fischman, The Wal-Mart Effect [New York: The
Penguin Press, 2006] 5.
While the economic data does not unilaterally support this
conclusion, many economists contend that Wal-Mart’s entrance into a
community makes it impossible for small-town “Mom and Pop” stores to
compete. Garry Gereffi, professor at Duke University, reports that
since Wal-Mart can undercut small retailer’s prices by anywhere
between twenty and thirty percent, such stores stand little chance
against this corporate giant.
John A. Ryan, Economic Justice: Selections from
Distributive Justice and A Living Wage, ed. Harlan R. Beckley
[Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996], 115.
Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis,
[New York: The Macmillian Company, 1907], 60.
Walter Rauschenbusch, The Righteousness of the Kingdom, ed.
Max Stackhouse [Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1968], 115.
Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis, 237.
Rauschenbusch, Christianity and the Social Crisis, 240.
Rauschenbusch understood medical illness as uniquely social
phenomenon. In his prayer “For Doctors and Nurses,” Rauschenbusch
prays that they be “faithful in their service of the poor who need
their help most sorely, and may the children of the workingman be as
precious to them as the child of the rich.” Just as doctors and
nurses had a unique duty to society, he understood illness itself as
an indication of society’s failings. In the “Tuberculosis Day
Prayer,” he writes, “since we are all jointly guilty of the
conditions which have bred their disease, may we stand by those who
bear the burden of our common sin, and set the untied will of our
community against this power that slays the young and strong in the
bloom of their life. May this death that creeps from man to man be
a solemn reminder that we are all one family, bound together in joy
and sorrow.” [Rauschenbusch, Prayers of the Social Awakening].
Ryan, Economic Justice, 115.
Christine Firer Hinze, “Bridge Discourse on Wage Justice: Roman
Catholic and Feminist Perspectives on the Family Living Wage,”
Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics 23 (1991), 124.
Bruce Bartlett, “Wal-Mart is good for America,” NCPA Idea House,
November 22, 2004 http://www.ncpa.org/Edo/bb/20041122bb.htm
[accessed September 18 2009].
Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created A Brave
New World of Business [New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009] 247.
Wal-Mart has not shied away from capitalizing upon the social
benefits it has delivered in the form of low prices, using this as a
sort of bulwark against constant criticism. Its decision to switch
from its 19 year slogan of “Always, Always Low Prices,” to “Save
Money: Live Better,” reflects this desire to widely publicize that
low prices translate to a better standard of living. Its recent
commercial entitled “Road Trip” features a picturesque family
cruising in their minivan as they vacation cross-country. Be they
hiking in the mountains, frolicking at the beach, or arriving at the
Mecca of all American family vacation destinations, Orlando,
Florida, the commercial makes clear that Wal-Mart has made these
magical moments possible. The commercial ends with the statement
that Wal-Mart saves the average family $2,500 per year, and then
begs the question: what will you do with your savings? Such a
campaign calls into question the motives behind Wal-Mart’s pricing
Harlan Beckley, Passion for Justice: Retrieving the legacies of
Walter Rauschenbusch, John A. Ryan, and Reinhold Niebuhr
[Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992], 125.
Beckley, Passion for Justice, 44.
This figure was calculated making the generous assumption that such
an employee earns an average of 10 dollars per hour and works 34
hours each week for 52 straight weeks each year [Corporate Facts
Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution, 219.
Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution, 215-222.
This covert form of discrimination typifies Wal-Mart’s behavior
towards its female sales associates. Wal-Mart currently faces the
largest private-sector class action lawsuit in American history for
routinely discriminating against women in payment and promotions
decision [Moreton 49]. Despite its poor treatment of female
employees in lower level positions, the CEO of walmart.com was named
one of the 50 most powerful women in business and the National
Association of Female Executives honored Wal-Mart as one of the top
companies for female executives [Useem]. This seemingly disparate
treatment of women further illustrates the ambiguity of assessing
Wal-Mart’s actions in light of Christian social justice standards.
This number was calculated using the recommended living wage value
of $8.73 for a worker who works for 40 hours a week, 52 weeks in a
year. It should be noted that living wage estimates remain highly
conservative, calculated to reflect a very minimal standard of
living and minimal cost threshold. The Living Wage Project admits
that in some instances, these wages may reflect too low estimations
of the local cost of living.
Calculated using payroll data estimates of the starting salary of a
Wal-Mart employee, earning approximately $7.00 per hour, working for
40 hours per week and for 52 weeks per year [Jacobs].
The Census Bureau reports this as the poverty threshold for an
individual under the age of 65 for the past year. [U.S. Census
Jacobs, “Living Wage Policies and Wal-Mart,” 7-8.
Jacobs, “Living Wage Policies and Wal-Mart,” 9.
Jacobs, “Living Wage Policies and Wal-Mart,” 9.
The average “consumer unit” spent $2,976 on health insurance. The
consumer unit is defined as 2.5 persons, meaning that the average
person spent $1,190.40 on health insurance in 2008 [Bureau of Labor
A full-time Wal-Mart worker compensated at a rate of 10 dollars per
hour could expect to earn approximately $20,800 in a given year,
meaning that an annual outlay of $1,190.40 would equal approximately
.057 of this total figure. In other words, approximately 5.7
The average annual income per person in a consumer unit equaled
approximately $25,425.20 in 2008. This means that average health
insurance costs per person equaled approximately .046 of this figure
or alternatively, 5 percent.
Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution, 221.
Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution, 218-219.
Stephen E. Lammers and Allen Verhey, eds., On Moral Medicine:
Theological Perspectives in Medical Ethics, 2nd Edition [Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998] 631.
Andrew B. Lustig, “Reform and Rationing: Reflections on Health Care
in Light of Catholic Social Teaching,” 37.
Barbaro and Abelson, “A Health Plan for Wal-Mart: Less stinginess.”
Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution, 221.
Ryan, Economic Justice, 121.
Dennis McCann, interview by author, October 29, 2009.