But when you’re talking about a city’s economy, it’s important to distinguish between two kinds of job growth. One, which D.C. has had in spades, is the kind of thing where firms in the area want to hire lots of skilled workers at high wages leading to an influx of new affluent people. Another is a scenario where the people who are already living in the city get hired for relatively low-skilled service sector jobs and eventually the local labor market gets tight enough that wages have to rise for people to find positions. The D.C. area has had some of this latter form of job growth (especially relative to the truly bleak job markets prevailing in many parts of the country) but not nearly enough.That’s the moral of the story with these Walmart job openings. To create rising employment and incomes for the many working class people in the area, you need two, three, many Walmarts. And you need new restaurants and new taxis and new hotels and new hospitals and new construction projects. These aren’t the “good jobs” in information technology and biotech that civic officials fantasize about, but the people who are really in need simply aren’t qualified for the fanciest jobs around. They need regular jobs. And they need enough of them so they can bargain for better wages and working conditions rather than being fearful of returning to the ranks of the unemployed.
By any honest account there is much to dislike about Walmart. By skimping on employee health care, Walmart forces employees onto taxpayer-funded public health programs. In a 2005 memo, Walmart admitted that nearly half of its employees’ children were uninsured or on Medicaid. A story that deservedly went viral this week reported that a Walmart in Canton, Ohio held a food drive for its own needy employees. The company has been accused of everything from condoning the torture and abuse of pigs to creating unemployment.But it’s worth pondering why elite, often left-leaning opinions about Walmart seem to have little in common with those of the people who actually shop there and want to work there. The number of applications the DC Walmarts have received seems to be evidence that those actually dealing with unemployment have decided that a Walmart wage will help improve their standard of living. And Walmart prices increase the purchasing power of low-income people, potentially making the difference between struggling and getting by. The knock-on effects of liberal solutions to Walmart evils, like raising the minimum wage beyond a threshold the company is willing to accept, often harm the very people their proponents claim to be helping.The DC Walmarts will provide employment and affordable goods to people who need them, and that’s a good thing.[Walmart image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]