Not only is Wal-Mart at the top of the Fortune 500 list with $14 billion in profits last year, its top executives took home record pay as well. The Wal-Mart folks told Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Steve Painter that changes in federal reporting rules requiring them to include total compensation packages in executive pay figures artificially skewed the numbers upward, but the truth is that the president and chief executive officer, Mike Duke, made almost $20 million last year. To put that in context, Arkansas, where the company is based, is ranked 48 in terms of median income.
As Rachel Mulroy points out, poverty keeps Wal-Mart going. The worse those at the bottom do, the more they're compelled to shop as cheaply as possible, and for many communities Wal-Mart is the only choice. That comes at a price later in terms of Wal-Mart's continued ability to keep its labor cheap and do all it can to dodge rules and regulations that would raise its prices. And, as Mulroy writes, it's hard to keep that stuff in perspective:
But now when I start to think of the $14 billion in profits while I sit in disgust at home with all my Walmart stuff that was bought at the expense of somebody's decent living wage and health insurance, I've come to realize, you get what you pay for. While I enjoy buying movies for $5 and love the idea of $100 dining room sets and $25 DVD players, the concept of short-changing people who struggle just as much as I do doesn't sit well with me.
It's hard to know exactly how to counter that, but one way would be to keep people on the margins from becoming so desperate.
-- Monica Potts
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