Wal-Mart: Always Low, by Ryan Beckmann

If I were just moving out of a friend or parent’s house while working at Wal-Mart, my life would be pretty bleak. As a full time Wal-Mart employee living in Austin, Texas and earning a salary of $17,118 yearly, I would barely be able to scrape together enough funds in order to get my own place. Even with a $150 kicker, I would barely be able to afford to buy a cheap Wal-Mart pillow to rest my head on. I would have no mattress, no blanket, and no pots, pans, silverware, or dishes. Even Wal-Mart prices would be too expensive. My modest 638 square foot apartment would be utterly bare that first month. I would continue to eke out a living and month by month at least 84% of my take-home income would go towards rent, utilities, food, health care, and a bus pass; the leftover savings might be spent on luxuries like forks, spoons, and knives, pots and pans, or a blanket to keep me warm. If life was extremely favorable I might be able to save up for a mattress; still, that scenario is not likely. Due to laundry, wear and tear of clothes, unexpected illness, and other miscellaneous burdens, any leftover savings would probably disappear quickly.

As a Wal-Mart employee, getting on my feet would be tough to say the least. I would have no comforts of any kind and no funds for entertainment of any kind. In fact, most if not all of the left over savings from each paycheck would probably be used in one form or another to pay for things that many consider to be necessities. After assessing this possibility of earning what the average Wal-Mart employee earns hourly, one might consider the life of such a worker as a struggle to keep his or her head above water.

Upon recognizing that, at the very least, trying to get by as a single person (without responsibilities like school or elderly parents) is incredibly challenging, it is ridiculous to think that one could raise a family with a similar income. Unfortunately, in the United States, a family of four is considered above the poverty line if its total yearly income is just over $19,000 (less than $2,000 more than that of the lowly Wal-Mart employee just addressed). If one can hardly eke out a living by oneself at such an income, how can four people survive? Surely the imaginary line that separates those in poverty from those above poverty is drawn in the wrong place. Surely the definition of poverty in America has become outdated. Raising the poverty line far past such an unlivable wage would be the only way to reflect the true economic realities of many American families.

In her book Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich addresses the issue of a livable wage in America. After finding first-hand that many ‘livable wages’ are unlivable, Ehrenreich realizes that “the problem goes beyond [her] personal failings and miscalculations” (Ehrenreich 2001: 199). Like many sociologists she sees things with a sociological imagination; she doesn’t just take the individual into account, but rather how the larger social forces influence the individual. “When a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow,” how can other Americans with unfavorable life chances, more complicated circumstances, and/or families to support eke out a living (Ehrenreich 2001: 199)? The answer is that they cannot. There is a greater dynamic at play, greater than one person or his/her family, when people work that hard just to stay in poverty.

Works Cited

Ehrenreich, Barbara. 2001. Nickel and Dimed. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.


Wal-Mart: Always Low, by Ryan Beckmann

Rent $500.00
Utilities $100.00
Food $280.00
Transportation $10.00
Health Care $125.00

Housing Deposit $99.00
Utilities Deposit $235.00

1st Month Total Expenses $1,349.00
Monthly Take-home Income $1,212.52
Starting Assets $150.00

1st Month Leftover Savings $13.52
Normal Monthly Leftover Savings $197.52

Monthly Federal Income Tax $213.98
Yearly Federal Income Tax $2,567.70

Total Monthly Budget $1,015.00

Total Yearly Budget $12,180.00


max wagner said...

wow never really thouht about how walmart represents america in general and poverty and stuff. kudos.

Anonymous said...

i basically grew up on the nightshift at walmart. i started when i was 18 and am now almost 25. basically im a bitter bitter person now. and have less hair. and like the poster above,i barely get by and live paycheck to paycheck. i also feel that walmart stole my youth.