Letters to the Editor

Economy: Wal-Mart impacts mostly negative

An interesting book came to hand recently: "How Wal-Mart is Destroying America (and the world)," by a Texas newspaperman, Bill Quinn.

Interesting because its statements seem unbelievable, even outrageous — at first reading. Some of the information contained in the book was already known to me, but certainly there were revelations.

I had heard that the jobs Wal-Mart offers are part-time and low-paid, but was not aware that the giant retailer defines a "full-time" worker as someone who puts in 28 hours per week and above. And perhaps 60 to 70 percent of the workers (both full and part-timers) have no health insurance. All are being paid a low retail wage, and all are subject to work shortage or layoff at the slightest downturn in store sales.

Interesting fact No. 2: A part of Wal-Mart's overall business strategy is to instantly transfer its daily earnings from its stores directly to corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. So, while the local bank may have accounts with Wal-Mart, the retailer is just using the bank to drain cash from the town: pour the dollars in, then pipe them out of town the next day. The bank never gets to use the capital this cash might represent, and the town doesn't get any benefit from it either.

3: Demise of downtown: In the case of Oak Harbor, this might not be true. It seems to me that downtown was suffering prior to the advent of Wal-Mart, but I did notice that there were no more fabric stores left after Wal-Mart opened.

4: Loss of jobs: Apparently one of the biggest carrots Wal-Mart holds out to struggling small towns is the promise of more jobs. But for every job created by a Wal-Mart, at least 1.5 jobs are lost. A factor here is that a Wal-Mart or other big retailer coming to town is not really offering new jobs in the way a manufacturer would be. If a new store comes to town, and that store is selling merchandise that, for the most part, was already available in the town, it is just going to be rearranging the way money already gets spent in the town. What Wal-Mart appears to be offering is not job creation, but job re-allocation and, eventually, job loss.

I have not touched on the "Buy American" promotions — goods which, for the most part, are made by sweatshop labor in Asia and Latin America. Sure these goods sell for less, but what is the cost of the savings? Where are the jobs for American workers?

I would love to hear from members of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and city officials. How has the presence of Wal-Mart affected Oak Harbor? And is the bank information factual? Perhaps in the long run residents want to have the convenience of superstores and miles of aisles of shopping.

Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer in the world and the biggest private employer in the United States. It has at least 3,020 outlets in the U.S. and over a thousand outlets in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom. And it is a predator. An article in Forbes magazine's 1991 “400 Richest” issue laid out the basic Wal-Mart concept as follows: “Discount stores in small towns and rural areas, each big enough to freeze out competition.”

In closing, perhaps you may be interested in a program on KCTS Channel 9 on Friday, Nov. 8, at 9 p.m. Bill Moyers’ “Now” program will be focusing on Wal-Mart.

Margaret Burton


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