The Left, Wal-Mart, and the D.C. City Council Fiasco

Yesterday, the liberal majority of the D.C. City Council voted that if Wal-Mart opens three stores in the underserviced poor areas of the nation’s capital -- inhabited largely by African-Americans -- it cannot do so unless the chain raises the minimum wage of its employees to $12.50 per hour.

That action reflects how far removed from reality the council members are. Their supposed concern for the poor will only hurt those they claim to be representing. The action also displays how the arguments and activism of left-wing groups -- who have for years campaigned for what they continually call a “living wage” -- have had an influence on Democratic Party politicians.

In the District of Columbia, the minimum wage is already $8.25 an hour, higher than the established federal minimum wage. Moreover, the Council’s action would apply only to the three stores that Wal-Mart planned to build. It is clearly a discriminatory piece of legislation, since it targets only one employer -- a firm which we all know is the chain most hated by Left activists like those of the old ACORN. (To see typical leftist arguments on the issue, read here.)

Investor's Business Daily notes that if Wal-Mart cancels the three stores under construction and the other three that were being planned, it means a loss to D.C. residents of 900 retail jobs and 600 construction jobs -- 1500 people who would be able to gain much-needed work. More important, however, is that Wal-Mart is building in areas of the city that have few, if any, supermarkets or chains at which residents can locally buy produce at prices they can afford.

The Daily editors write:

At a time when millions of marginally employed Americans are scraping by, prices at Wal-Mart average 10% to 40% below other retailers for food, clothing, medicines and many other items.

In that manner, consumers shopping at the popular chain -- popular except among the denizens of the Left who get their produce at Whole Foods and other upscale chains -- achieve savings totaling over $50 billion per year. On the individual level, a shopper buying his food and other items exclusively at Wal-Mart saves up to $2000 per year.

To the poor, Wal-Mart is actually “progressive." Local resident Yvonne Williams informed a D.C. weekly free paper:

We’ve been praying for food in this neighborhood for about 40 years. ... God has brought what was supposed to be here -- a first-class progressive thing.