The real cost of shopping at the big box
Seventy million people shop at Wal-Mart each week. On one fall day in 2002, the Wal-Mart sales total exceeded the GNPs of 36 countries. Wal-Mart grossed $244.5 billion in sales for 2003.
A typical employee's hourly wage is $8, with a standard 32-hour workweek. The company's voluntary health coverage plan would suck up nearly three months of wages, at $2,844 a year; employees would still pay a deductible.
More than two-thirds of Wal-Mart's employees are women. Less than 10 percent hold management positions, average for a company in 1975. A class action sex-discrimination suit is pending.
Half of Wal-Mart's U.S. employees qualify for food stamps. Wal-Mart employees compose the largest single group in the state of Washington's low-income health program.
A 250,000-square-foot supercenter with a 16-acre parking lot will produce 413,000 gallons of storm runoff for every inch of rain. Each year, such a lot would dump 240 pounds of nitrogen, 32 pounds of phosphorus, and 5 pounds of zinc into local watersheds while creating heat islands.
Once Wal-Mart stifles its competition in a region, it consolidates its holdings by vacating many of its stores. To limit competitors in the future, the leases of these dark Wal-Marts prevent them from being used for retail. Other uses for these massive windowless structures are limited.
As of February 2004, Wal-Mart possesses 371 dead stores. Half of these buildings have been vacant for at least two years, and 21 percent have not been used for at least five years. Over that time, the number of dead Wal-Marts has risen 38 percent. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart opens a new store every 42 hours.
But we can have a say. On April 6, the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood voted down an initiative to let Wal-Mart build a 60-acre shopping center there without the environmental or traffic reviews or public hearings required for most major development projects. Despite a million-dollar campaign, the initiative lost, 7,049 to 4,575.
From Terrain (Summer 2004). Subscriptions: $15 (4 issues) from Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, CA 94702; www.terrainmagazine.org