Walmart fueling hunger crisis in America

CHICAGO – In a report released today, just nine days before workers are planning Black Friday protests at more than 1,000 Walmarts, Michele Simon – a public health attorney who runs Eat Drinks Politics and a national expert on food insecurity – details how the country’s largest employer is contributing to the hunger crisis in the United States.

The report, Walmart’s Hunger Games – How America’s Largest Employer and Richest Family Worsen the Hunger Crisis, illustrates the role companies like Walmart play in reinforcing low pay and forced part-time work that keeps working families from being able to afford groceries. The report comes days after Oxfam America released a new report that finds millions of working families struggling to provide enough food for their households, due to persistent low wages.

An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer this morning notes that “many Walmart workers serve as poster children for food insecurity because their low pay doesn’t allow them to adequately feed their families.”

The report the article refers to includes interviews with several Walmart workers, including La’Randa Jackson, from Cincinnati.  She says: “I skip a lot of meals. The most important thing is food for the babies, then my younger brothers. Then, if there’s enough, my mom and I eat.” 

The Eat Drink Politics report finds that “in the U.S. today, the fastest growing job sector is low-wage retail jobs, with one in every 10 retail employees working at Walmart. With its size and reach, Walmart’s pay and other practices set the standard for the retail industry and drive down pay in other industries as well.

The report further notes that “Walmart’s low wages and poor benefits frequently result in workers turning to a variety of public assistance programs. A recent report by Americans for Tax Fairness estimated the cost to taxpayers of Walmart workers’ reliance on public assistance is $6.2 billion a year.

“In addition to paying workers so little that many rely on public assistance, Walmart and the Waltons are building their wealth with income from food stamps. In 2013, Walmart reported that it captured 18 percent of all food stamp spending, estimated to be $13.5 billion.”

It is findings such as these that explain some of the new advertising campaigns recently launched by the giant retailer. The campaigns are designed to deflect attention from Walmart’s disgraceful treatment of its own workers.

One such series of ads, in an incredibly ironic twist, shows how Walmart is supporting anti-hunger programs this year, programs necessitated in large part by its own payment of starvation wages. Making the the irony even crueler, rather than just donating to food banks, Walmart made a game out of its giving. In order to “win” Walmart’s funds, food banks had to compete, essentially pitting hungry families in different parts of the country against each other.

The report indicates that  In the United States, 49 million individuals suffer from hunger, including 15.8 million children. In the last three years, the number of participants in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program grew by 42 percent to more than 47 million Americans. The growth in SNAP eligibility is not just due to people who can’t find work, but also because many people are underemployed or in jobs where they are paid too little to cover their own food costs.

Last year, when Walmart workers in Ohio shared a photo of a food collection in their store for Walmart workers while the company was turning record profits it caused a firestorm of protests around the country their workers were going hungry.

Photo: Protesters commit civil disobedience at Alice Walton’s apartment building in NYC in push for higher wages at Walmart. Twitter, courtesy of Think Progress


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.