Walmart Wages

At a Walmart store in Ohio, needy employees are receiving Thanksgiving food donations from their fellow workers. Such generosity would make a nice holiday story, except in this case the altruism is fueling criticism of the retailer’s low wages.

A photo circulating on the Internet shows plastic tubs under a table that has a sign that reads: “Please Donate Food Items Here, so Associates in Need Can Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner.” The tables are located in an employee-only area of the store, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

The effort is “another element in the backdrop of the public debate about salaries for cashiers, stock clerks and other low-wage positions at Walmart,” reporter Olivera Perkins wrote.

United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart, an advocacy group of Walmart associates, posted the photo to its Facebook page and wrote, “Walmart is asking us to donate food to our coworkers. Why can’t Walmart pay us enough so we can feed out families?”

In response to the donation bins, Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart said in an ABC news report: “It shows these associates care for each other. This isn’t everyday, run-of-the-mill stuff -- maybe a spouse has lost a job or lost a loved one, or maybe a natural disaster has hit.”

Taken in such context, perhaps the gesture by the employees to help one another shouldn’t trigger criticism of Walmart.

But, “it was only a few months ago that McDonald’s came under fire for offering personal finance advice to employees that seemed to suggest they would need a second job to make ends meet,” wrote Jena McGregor, a columnist for The Washington Post’s On Leadership blog. “Coming on the heels of that brouhaha, the Walmart photo starts to look less like a gesture of help and more like yet another example of a big corporation expecting others to pick up the slack for its low pay. If there were news of a similar food drive at a Costco, say --which is known for offering above-average pay and benefits — it probably wouldn’t register a blip of attention. Context counts, and people will see what they want to see.”

But this isn’t just about Walmart. There has long been debate about the need for people to be paid a living wage, which would be high enough to support a certain standard of living for a family. Three-fourths of Americans support increasing the minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour, according to a new Gallup poll, reports The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake, and President Obama supports a bill that would increase the minimum wage, incrementally, to $10.10 per hour.

If you want to see how someone lives on Walmart wages, check out this budget analysis of one worker’s paycheck by Demos. The Walmart 11-year employee, who has a 14-year-old daughter, earns $13.10 per hour. She usually works 34 hours a week, but her schedule can vary from week to week. So her checks are not predictable. Could you live on $1,782 a month? See how one woman does it.

Color of Money Question of the Week

What do you think about raising the national minimum wage?

Send you responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Walmart Wages” in the subject line, and include your full name, city and state in the e-mail.

Live Online Chat Today

Got any holiday budget concerns? Maybe I can help. Or let’s just talk about your personal finances in general. Join me live today at noon ET. If you can’t participate live, send in your money questions early.

Up Goes the Stock Market

For the first time, the Dow Jones industrial average passed 16,000 points on Monday, before closing at 15,976.02.

So, does this mean we are out of the economic woods?

Although the markets are roaring, it’s not up, up and away for a lot of people in the country, partly because many people don’t have a stake in the stock market game.

“Barely more than half of Americans personally or jointly with a spouse own stock as part of a mutual fund or a retirement account such as a 401(k), compared with 65 percent in 2007, according to Gallup’s annual Economy and Finance Survey,” reports The Washington Post’s Jia LynnYang.

“That decline suggests that many households hurt by the recession haven’t been able to recover their footing enough to invest in stocks again,” Yang writes. “This also means they’re missing out on one of the most robust aspects of the recovery.”

Return Policy

It’s going to happen.

Some people on your list will not like what you give them for the holiday. That means you need to become familiar with store return policies.

Kaitlin Pitsker from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine says to watch out for tougher return policies this year. To be sure, “stingier policies are intended to combat return fraud,” she writes. For example, stores are trying to combat “wardrobing,” the practice of buying, using and then returning a product (usually clothing) for a refund.

Pitsker reports that some stores are requiring shoppers to show identification cards with or without their receipts, and some are shortening the time period during which items can be returned. In some instances, if a shopper goes over the store’s return limit -- either by exceeding the number of returns in a specific time frame or returning an item past the return policy due date — the store may deny your return.

Want to know the 10 stores with the best return policies? Click here.

If They Open, Will You Shop

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “What do you think of stores opening on Thanksgiving Day?”

Kmart said it will be open for 41 straight hours, starting from 6 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to 11 p. m. on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

“This is so wrong in many ways,” wrote Ellen Gee of Bowie, Md., on Facebook. “Retailers are getting more and more greedy. What happened to family time? I bet the President and top managers of these companies won’t be there working, just the poor working folks. When does this craziness stop? I say boycott these stores who don’t care about their employees.”

Felicia Johnson of Little Rock, Ark., said that “one of the main concerns individuals express against stores opening on Thanksgiving is that it results in employees not being able to spend the day with their families. Companies should care about their employees’ welfare all year round.”

Jenice Armstrong of Philadelphia said she used to be opposed to shopping on Thanksgiving until a friend who was alone for the holiday told her that she planned to spend Thanksgiving shopping at Kmart.

“It sounded sad at first,” Armstrong said, “but when I checked in with her afterwards, she told me about how she walked up and down the aisles listening to the cheery holiday music and how it lifted her soul. Kmart was an outlet for her and got her through the holiday. So, since then, I’m on the other side of the fence…”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071 or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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