Can Walmart Workers Really Live On Ten Dollars Per Hour?

A Black Friday protest outside of a St. Paul, Minnesota Walmart in 2013 CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS
A Black Friday protest outside of a St. Paul, Minnesota Walmart in 2013 CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Starting Wednesday, Walmart will begin raising its lowest wages to at least $9 an hour. But even after that, Samia Jones, who was previously making $8.35 an hour, will still need help to make ends meet.

“I don’t think it’s enough, because it’s still real low,” she said of the upcoming raise. She and her two-year-old daughter receive food stamps and Medicaid. Her full-time wages from Walmart and child support payments pay her bills, but “after that I don’t really have too much money left over to do much with,” she said. She noted that things sometimes run so low that she and her mother go to a local food kitchen. “I feel bad because I don’t have enough money to go out and get [my daughter] food that I would like for her to have, because I don’t have no extra money,” she said.

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Even when her wages eventually rise to $10 an hour, which the company said will happen by February of next year, she thinks she’ll still need to rely on public programs to get by. “I just don’t think that will be enough for me to live comfortably,” she said. “Because I’ve got a child, she needs more, clothes, all that extra stuff.”

“At $10 an hour I probably would still need food stamps,” she said.

Jones is likely not the only Walmart employee who will still need help from government programs after the wage increase. In a report released on Wednesday, Americans for Tax Fairness said that at $9 an hour working a full-time schedule of 34 hours a week, employees will still make just $15,912 a year, qualifying a single worker for three public assistance programs and a parent for eight. Even once wages get to $10 an hour, full-time employees will pull in $17,680 a year, qualifying a parent or family of two for eight programs.

Emily Wells can attest that a Walmart employee making $9 an hour still needs government assistance to get by. She already makes $9.50 an hour but receives food stamps, help paying her electric bills, Medicaid, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) given that she is pregnant with her first child. She works part time, which is part of what makes it difficult to get by. “They do give me the option sometimes for full-time hours because our store is so short-handed, but at times further down the month they start cutting [hours] so they can get their profit back,” she said. Both the low wages and the erratic hours mean she has to rely on extra help. “It’s not easy to get by,” she said.

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She should get a raise to $10 an hour next year, but that won’t make enough of a difference. “I know later on after the baby’s born I’ll have to start buying diapers and clothes and all of that other stuff,” she said.

But if she were to get $15 an hour, a wage hike that she’s been advocating for as part of Making Change at Walmart, she thinks things would change. “It would a help out a lot actually,” she said.

The report backs that idea up. If Walmart employees’ wages were increased to $15 an hour — part of the demands of workers who have repeatedly gone on strike and protested — a worker who had a full-time schedule of 40 hours a week would make $31,200 a year, no longer qualifying for seven public programs, leaving just the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Wells thinks she and her coworkers deserve more. “We do a lot… They have me work all different departments, I’m in hardware, I’m in shoes, in jewelry, I’m up front,” she said. “I’m not going to stop fighting for 15, because I know that’s what we need.”