Walmart, which employs 1.5 million U.S. workers, is the country's largest private employer. (Mark Lennihan/AP)

Walmart said its store managers now average $175,000 a year, while its full-time hourly worker average $14.26 an hour, as the country’s largest private employer tries to attract workers in an ever-tightening job market.

Starting wages at Walmart have risen more than 50 percent in the past three years, according to a company report released this week. Salaries have also continued to rise for store managers, whose pay is calculated based on factors including the size of a store and its sales.

"In many cases, our store managers will be running the biggest business in their communities, with as much as $100 million in sales,” said Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart. “This is a recognition of their efforts.”

But labor advocacy groups say the retailer’s hourly pay is still too low for many of its workers, particularly given the $129 billion in profits it posted last year.

“Too many people who work at Walmart are stuck in part-time, low-wage jobs,” said Cyndi Murray, a Walmart employee and member of United for Respect, an employee group that advocates for workers’ rights. “Conveniently, Walmart would like to focus on how much store managers get paid, but about half a million associates are . . . being left out of the equation."

Murray, a fitting-room attendant in Laurel, Md., has been working for Walmart for 19 years. She is a full-time employee and makes less than $15 an hour. “This has to change,” she said.

Average hourly pay of $14.26 equals about $25,200 a year for 34-hour weeks, which is considered full time at Walmart. That is below the national poverty line for a family of four.

Chief executive Doug McMillon, by comparison, received a pay package worth nearly $24 million last year, company filings show.

Retailers have struggled in recent years to attract and keep low-wage workers as the national unemployment rate hits record lows. The national unemployment rate of 3.6 percent is at its lowest level since 1969.

Walmart, which has about 1.5 million U.S. employees, raised its hourly starting wage to $11 last year to keep up with higher-paying competitors such as Target, Costco and CVS.

“When the labor market tightens, retail is one of the first industries to feel it,” said Hyunseob Kim, a professor of labor economics at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. “Retail workers tend to be generalists — what a Walmart worker does is similar to what a Macy’s worker does — so it’s easy for them to move from one employer to another.”

Walmart workers critical of the company have historically accused it of making it difficult to secure full-time work that would make them eligible for benefits such health care and tuition assistance. Last year, nearly 70 percent of part-time Walmart workers said they would like to be full time, according to a survey by United for Respect.

Walmart said it has been working to change that. Lundberg said “a majority” of hourly workers are currently employed full time. He added that about 175,000 part-time employees received full-time positions at the company last year.

The company has also expanded its parental leave offerings in a bid to win over workers. Walmart last year said it would begin offering workers a college education for $1 a day, as long as they got degrees in business or supply-chain management.

“Our associates tell us that wages are just a part of it,” Lundberg said. “It’s about wages, benefits, paid time off, training, education access. We have been very deliberate in the offerings we have built for our associates over the past four, five years.”

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 has remained unchanged for a decade; 29 states and the District have higher minimum-wage requirements.

Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour in November, after criticism that the trillion-dollar company was not paying its workers a living wage. Target, meanwhile, is on track to pay at least $15 an hour by the end of next year. (Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)

Roughly 55 percent of Walmart’s U.S. employees are women, and 44 percent are people of color, according to the report.

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