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Are American-made goods coming soon to a Walmart near you, as the company's PR department would have you believe? Does it surprise you that the answer is "not really"?
Walmart says it's going to increase its American buying by $50 billion over the next decade. That sounds impressive until Stacy Mitchell lays out the context:
For starters, $50 billion over a decade may sound huge at first, but measured against Walmart's galactic size, it's not. An additional $5 billion a year amounts to only 1.5 percent of what Walmart currently spends on inventory.
Worse, very little of this small increase in spending on American-made goods will actually result in new U.S. production and jobs. Most of the projected increase will simply be a byproduct of Walmart's continued takeover of the grocery industry. Most grocery products sold in the U.S. are produced here. As Walmart expands its share of U.S. grocery sales—it now captures 25 percent, up from 4 percent in 1998—it will buy more U.S. foods. But this doesn't mean new jobs, because other grocers are losing market share and buying less.
So unless Walmart can get us all to eat a lot more than we'd eat if we were buying food from other grocery stores, much of the company's big new buy America press will just be shifting purchases of American-made groceries from Safeway or Stop & Shop to Walmart—and that means wages for grocery workers will keep being pushed down. The "made in America" PR campaign is a sham in other ways, too:
Take 1888 Mills, a Georgia towel maker that has a new (and much-publicized) contract to produce American-made towels for Walmart. The company, which plans to maintain its overseas workforce of 14,000 for the bulk of its production, will be adding only 35 jobs at its U.S. factory to meet Walmart's multi-year purchase agreement. The jobs pay $12-14 an hour.
Now, $12-14 an hour is certainly better than most workers at Walmart stores make (or else Walmart wouldn't be throwing such a hissy fit over the prospect of having to pay Washington, DC, workers $12.50 an hour), but 35 jobs at that level are hardly going to rebuild the American middle class. Especially when you put it up against all the grocery workers whose wages will be declining as a result of Walmart's growing grocery dominance.