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Wal-Mart workers need help to get by

By Alan Maass | October 1, 2004 | Page 2

THEY WORK for the largest private employer in the country. But they're paid so poorly that they need public assistance. That's the conclusion of a study by the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center, which found that the state of California spent $86 million in public assistance because workers at Wal-Mart stores earn such low wages.

According to the researchers, many of Wal-Mart's 44,000 California employees in 2001 relied on food stamps and subsidized housing to make ends meet. The Wal-Mart workers and their families were also more likely to use public health care.

"Wal-Mart workers' reliance on public assistance due to substandard wages and benefits has become a form of indirect public subsidy to the company," concluded the UC-Berkeley report. "Reliance by Wal-Mart workers on public assistance programs in California comes at a cost to the taxpayers of an estimated $86 million annually; this is comprised of $32 million in health related expenses and $54 million in other assistance."

Report co-author Ken Jacobs said that he got data on the wages for California Wal-Mart workers from a lawsuit that revealed information for 2001. According to Jacobs' study, over half of Wal-Mart workers earned less than $9 an hour in 2001. Three-quarters made less than $10 an hour, and 95 percent earned below $11 an hour.

Jacobs believes that since salaries have risen by less than inflation since 2001, the situation is even worse for Wal-Mart workers. No wonder Wal-Mart, in addition to being the country's largest private-sector employer, is probably the most sued company in the U.S., facing dozens of cases of wage-and-hour violations.

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