Home / Finance Topic / Capitalism’s Impact: When the Largest Employer Leaves a Rural Town

Capitalism’s Impact: When the Largest Employer Leaves a Rural Town

Walmart - When They Leave Town

Walmart is one case of how capitalism does not help the average person. This article by The Guardian describes how one town in the US got impacted by Walmart when they came roaring into town and now, when they left.

This town in West Virginia was different in that they embraced Walmart when the big box store arrived because it brought in jobs. I remember reading articles on how towns fought to keep out Walmart because the mom and pop stores would die because they could not compete against Walmart. Walmart was so large it was able to offer much lower prices and to stock everything in one place. But this town thought that Walmart would be bringing in jobs, and it did, but maybe not in the way they were hoping.

The Walton family are billionaires,” she said (also no exaggeration – their collective worth is put at about $150bn). “They developed a system that just made us worse off, and then they took even that away from us.” The Guardian, "What Happened When Walmart Left", 7/13/2017.

The above quote was an assessment made by one of the town's residents.

The Walton family, who owns about 50% of the company, are frequently listed in the top ten listings of wealth. Depending on what you read, there are between 4 to 6 members of the family who cumulatively owns 50.8% of a company that made $485.87 billion in revenue, $13.64 billion in net income (2016 figures from Wikipedia). As majority shareholders, they get a lot of the wealth from owning shares in the company but at their employees' cost. There have been articles where the employees have had to depend on welfare because their pay was severely insufficient to be a living wage. Then there were other articles where their work schedule was very erratic and often did not constitute full time. Such erratic schedules made it extremely difficult to make plans such as getting an education to improve one's life.

In the last few years, I think the company finally decided to change the way they operate and start raising wages above the minimum wage.

So, this is the impact of capitalism's focus on just the shareholder. [Now to be fair, I did some quick calculations ($13.64 billion divided by 2.3 million employees worldwide) and found that increasing wages by $5900 would bring the company to breakeven point. So maybe they couldn't raise wages by much. But then again, these are 2016 figures, possibly after the wage changes took into effect. There were also efforts to improve benefits.]

And now the winds of change in the e-commerce retail is forcing Walmart to close many stores around the world in order to compete against Amazon (and to maintain their profits). All of retail, in small towns and large, will be impacted, with knock on effects.

We might need to broaden capitalism's purpose so that all of society benefits, not just the few.