The Benefits of Walmart

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Walmart catches a lot of grief. For example, as reported by CNN, Bernie Sanders recently “introduced a bill, titled the Stop Walmart Act, that would prevent large companies from buying back stock unless they pay all employees at least $15 an hour, allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave and limit CEO compensation to no more than 150 times the median pay of all staffers.” Yet, many don’t consider the massive benefits produced by Walmart: 

A 2005 Global Insight study commissioned by Wal-Mart and overseen by an independent panel suggested that a new Wal-Mart would create, on net, 137 jobs in the short term and 97 jobs in the long term (Global Insight 2005: 2). Studying Pennsylvania counties, Hicks (2005, discussed by Vedder and Cox 2006: 110) found that the company led to a net increase of fifty new jobs with a 40% reduction in job turnover. Hicks (2007: 93-94) uses data from Indiana to estimate that Wal-Mart increases rural retail employment from 3.4% to 4.8% after correcting for endogeneity. After correcting for endogeneity of urban Wal-Mart entry, Hicks argues that Wal-Mart leads to a 1.2% increase in employment but points out that this estimate is statistically insignificant.

…Wal-Mart’s most obvious effect on the retail sector comes through its policy of Every Day Low Prices. Basker (2005b) and Basker and Noel (2009) estimate that WalMart has a substantial price advantage over competitors with the effect being that prices among incumbent competitors fall after Wal-Mart entry. Hausman and Leibtag (2007: 1147) argue that the compensating variation from Big Box retailers’ effect on prices leads to welfare increases of some 25% of total food expenditure for people who enjoy the direct and indirect effects of Big Box stores. Further, they argue (Hausman and Leibtag 2009) that the Consumer Price Index is over-estimated because it fails to account properly for price effects of supercenters, mass merchandisers, and club stores. Evaluating estimates of the price effects of Big Box retailers and adjusting for foreign sales, Vedder and Cox (2006: 18-19) argue that “the annual American-derived welfare gains are probably still in excess of $65 billion, or about $225 for every American, or $900 for a typical family of four.”

…Jason Furman (2005) called Wal-Mart a “progressive success story” because of its impact on prices. He notes that if the 2005 Global Insight estimate of annual average household savings of $2,329 is accurate, the annual Wal-Mart related consumer savings of $263 billion dwarfs Wal-Mart-generated reductions in retail wages of $4.7 billion estimated by Dube et al. (2005). Hicks (2007: 82) notes that reductions in nominal retail wages are likely offset by larger price reductions, which translates into higher real wages. Courtemanche and Carden’s (2011a) estimate of $177 per household in savings attributable to the effects of Wal-Mart Supercenters in 2002 multiplied by the 105,401,101 households in the 2000 census yields household savings of $18.7 billion, which is still substantially higher than Dube et al.’s estimate of lost wages. 

Hausman and Leibtag (2007: 25) argue that the compensating variation—i.e., welfare increase—attributable to supercenters, mass merchandisers, and club stores is some 25% of food expenditures. Since poorer households spend more of their income on food, the effect (as a percentage of income) is higher toward the bottom of the income distribution (Furman 2005: 2-3). Hausman and Leibtag (2007: 1172, 1174) further argue that compensating variation from access to non-traditional retailers is higher at lower income levels, which would make the effect even more progressive (pgs. 8-9).1

A brand new study demonstrates even more benefits provided by Walmart:

We estimate the effects that Walmart Supercenters have on food security using data from the 2001–2012 waves of the December Current Population Study Food Security Supplement (CPS-FSS). Narrow geographic identifiers available in the restricted version of these data enable us to compute the distance from each household’s census tract to the nearest Walmart Supercenter. Our outcomes are counts of the number of affirmative responses on the household and child-specific portions of the food insecurity questionnaire, along with binary variables for household food insecurity, household very low food security, child food insecurity, and child very low food security. We estimate instrumental variables (IV) models that leverage the predictable geographic expansion patterns of Walmart Supercenters outward from corporate headquarters. Specifically, we instrument for Walmart Supercenters with the interaction of distance from Bentonville, Arkansas (Walmart’s headquarters), with time. For both households in general and children specifically, the results show that a closer proximity to the nearest Walmart Supercenter leads to sizeable and statistically significant improvements in all food security measures except the indicator for very low food security. Subsample analyses reveal that the effects are especially large for low-income households and children, though they are also sizeable for middle-income children.

As journalist John Tierney asked, “How could any progressive with a conscience oppose an organization that confers such benefits?”

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