"Wal-Mart Moms" or "Wal-Mart Women" are the new "it" demographic this election cycle. That may be good news for Wal-Mart shoppers, but it is not good news for Wal-Mart.
Like soccer moms and security moms in prior elections, pollsters believe that Wal-Mart Moms will play a key role in choosing the next President. Wal-Mart executives have promoted this idea, even releasing their own poll about "Wal-Mart Moms." Led by Leslie Dach, executive vice president for corporate affairs and government relations and a former Democratic strategist, the company wants to believe that the courting of Wal-Mart Moms by the presidential candidates places Wal-Mart on an untouchable political pedestal. This is foolish thinking on Wal-Mart's part.
The values of an average Wal-Mart Mom are not Wal-Mart's values. In fact, their values are in direct conflict. The more Wal-Mart encourages Wal-Mart Moms to vote, the more it endangers the "values" that the company depends on for its business model to succeed. An organized voting bloc of Wal-Mart Women may very well demand change, but it will not be the change that Wal-Mart wants.
Wal-Mart Moms have already been defined in a multitude of ways. Wal-Mart Moms or Wal-Mart Women tend to be more suburban and rural, typically white, less formally educated, lower income and shop at Wal-Mart because they are feeling financially squeezed. These women have basic economic concerns - adequate income to support their families and pay equity in the workplace, affordable health care to take care of their children and ailing parents; and accessible education to provide future opportunities for their children.
Since 2005, Wal-Mart's wages (using their own figures) have gone down when accounted for inflation. As the nation's largest private employer (1.4 million U.S. workers), Wal-Mart has a disproportionately large impact on hourly wages overall in the low-wage workforce.
The UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education issued a report last year, which found that between 1992 and 2000, the opening of a single Wal-Mart store in a county lowered average retail wages in that county by between .5 and .9 percent. In the general merchandise sector, wages fell by 1 percent for each new Wal-Mart. And for grocery store employees the effect of a single new Wal-Mart was a 1.5 percent reduction in earnings. Many Wal-Mart Women are low-wage workers themselves and are suffering because of Wal-Mart's downward push on wages.
Naturally, the wage concern is an even bigger issue for women given the gender gap. Wal-Mart has particular problems in that area. For years, the company has been fighting the largest gender-based workplace discrimination lawsuit in the country, Dukes vs. Wal-Mart.
In 2003, Dr. Richard Drogin, professor emeritus at California State University-Hayward, conducted a study on wages for female employees at Wal-Mart and found that female hourly workers earn up to 37 cents less per hour than their male counterparts; women make up 72 percent of Wal-Mart's total workforce, but only 33 percent of its managers; and women make up 92 percent of Wal-Mart's cashiers, but only 14 percent of Wal-Mart store managers. [Wal-Mart Class, Plaintiff's Expert Dr. Richard Drogin's Statistical Report; New York Times, 12/30/04.]
Another important concern for Wal-Mart Moms is affordable access to quality health care. As the largest U.S. employer, Wal-Mart sets a standard for health care benefits, particularly in the retail sector. Unfortunately, the plan the company offers focuses on high deductibles and low benefits. The plan is so poor that half of Wal-Mart's workers do not use it and thousands of them choose to take Medicaid instead. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart does little to nothing to support national reform.
Wal-Mart Moms need quality, affordable health care for themselves and for their families. If Wal-Mart Moms swing this election, health care will have to be a priority for the next Administration, and Wal-Mart will be forced to do better.
Of course, Wal-Mart Moms are also interested in their children's education. According to a study conducted by the House Education and Workforce Committee's Democratic staff, a typical Wal-Mart store employing 200 people costs the American taxpayer $420,750 a year - about $2,103 per employee in public assistance costs due to Wal-Mart's low wages. In addition, Wal-Mart is notorious for not paying its fair share of income or property taxes so when a Wal-Mart moves in, costs to the community go up and Wal-Mart does not provide the tax revenue it promised. That means either less money for schools or higher property taxes for the average homeowner - both are serious concerns for Wal-Mart Moms.
For a Wal-Mart Mom, all of these things need to change. But for Wal-Mart, all of these issues are key components of the company's business model. As any political strategist knows, the more people mobilize, the more likely they are to organize and demand to be heard. Wal-Mart may enjoy being in the political limelight right now, using Wal-Mart Moms as the shiny object to distract from the company's dismal business practices. But, if Wal-Mart Moms swing this election, it will not be good news for Wal-Mart.