Politics

Sorry Salon, 80 percent
of Wal-Mart employees aren’t on food stamps

Sorry Salon, 80 percent of Wal-Mart employees aren't on food stamps

At this point, I’ve stopped reading Wal-Mart hit pieces, because … well, really what’s the point? This Salon piece by Jamila Aisha Brown, though, caught my attention. “Don’t fall for Wal-Mart’s latest hypocrisy” is not only an exceptionally messy piece of writing — offering the usual hodgepodge of ancient grievances, misleading claims and economic illiteracy – but it also makes what seems to be a completely fabricated assertion:

The move to intimidate the D.C. council should come as no surprise as the nation’s largest retailer refuses to allow its workers to unionize, hindering their rights to fair wages. Wal-Mart’s promise to bring “everyday low prices” and jobs to cities across the nation comes at a high price. Studies show approximately 80 percent of Wal-Mart employees are forced to use food stamps and cost taxpayers an average of $1.02 billion in healthcare costs annually.

It’s difficult to unpack how ridiculous the underlying arguments against Wal-Mart are, but is it possible that 80 percent – 80! — of its employees rely on food stamps? That seems like an awful lot. Did anyone at Salon fact check that explosive claim? Let’s follow the links for more information. The first one sends us to an agitated diarist at Daily Kos:

To make matters worse, these abusive Walmart policies have increased employee reliance on government assistance and the need for a government funded social safety net. In fact, Walmart has become the number one driver behind the growing use of food stamps in the United States with “as many as 80 percent of workers in Wal-Mart stores using food stamps.”

The Daily Kos dairy (a piece that had nearly 4000 re-tweets) offers no study to back up this claim, but rather sends us to an anti-Walmart website called Good Jobs First, which lays out the “hidden” costs of offering Americans jobs that unions don’t like.

Now, as misleading and as wrong as you may find the arguments offered by Good Jobs First, it backs up, in some detail, its case. But nowhere does it claim (not in text or in the footnotes) that 80 percent of Walmart employees are on food stamps. Actually once you unravel the numbers, the percentage of welfare recipients among Walmart employees is pretty unremarkable. When broken down by states, Wal-Mart does typically have the most Medicaid recipients, which is likely due to two realities: 1 – Wal-Mart isn’t a biotech or aerospace company, it’s a retail corporation. 2 – it’s the largest  employer in the country. A back of-the-envelope calculation, using the raw numbers provided by Good Jobs First, gets me somewhere between 8 or 10 percent of Wal-Mart employees relying on Medicaid in most states. My math may be off, because it’s always off, but I can assure you the number is nowhere near 80.

So where did the 80 percent come from? In the Daily Kos post, the writer puts quotation marks around his assertion, but there is no study I’ve been able to find anywhere that backs its up. Alan Grayson made a similar claim on Current TV a few years ago, and Polifact couldn’t find any research to back up that claim either. Google the phrase and it always comes back to the same Daily Kos diary.

Salon should provide the study — actually, the author claims that “studies” back her up — that prove this assertion or offer a correction.

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Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter @davidharsanyi.

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