Denying Wal-Mart hurts D.C. poor
By Mona Charen July 12, 2013 5:20PM
(Dave Shields/For Sun-Times Media)
Updated: August 14, 2013 6:08AM
Vincent Orange is exulting in his victory over the poor people of Washington. In an 8 to 5 vote, the District of Columbia City Council, of which Orange is a member, elected to prevent the “underserved” poor people of the District from getting fresh produce and other food, a wide variety of good-quality products at affordable prices and some 1,800 jobs, many of them entry-level.
In short, the D.C. city council has defeated mighty Wal-Mart. The council passed a transparent anti-Wal-Mart bill requiring retailers with sales above $1 billion (wink, wink) and floor space above 75,000 square feet (nudge, nudge) to pay employees a starting wage (they call it a “living wage”) of $12.50 per hour, or 50 percent more than the district’s minimum wage.
“We don’t have to beg” stores like Wal-Wart “to come to the district anymore,” Orange huffed.
No indeed. The poor of the District of Columbia can well afford to be choosy. Other cities and states, such as Virginia (unemployment rate 5.2 percent) or Houston (unemployment rate 6.1 percent), might feel the need to offer incentives and inducements for big employers. Not D.C. As Jarvis Johnson, a leader of “Respect D.C.,” the organizer of the anti-Wal-Mart movement, put it, “People won’t take another bully joining Congress in disrespecting our voices and our priorities.”
Just so. The district is practically inundated with offers of employment. That must be why the unemployment rate in D.C. is 8.5 percent — and 20.3 percent among blacks. That must explain the 37.8 percent unemployment rate for black teens.
Many of the neighborhoods in which Wal-Mart had planned to open its noxious stores are places that lack outlets selling fresh food and other products. In some cases, the Wal-Mart stores were to be anchors for whole new developments. Never mind.
Seventy-three percent of District residents approved of Wal-Mart’s plans to open six stores. They were apparently unaware that the hope of a job and a convenient place to buy broccoli, diapers, bathing suits and milk was some sort of surrender to the plutocrats. Far better for the neighborhood to remain devoid of clean, attractive stores — so much more authentic that way.
Wal-Mart has long been a bogeyman among business-despising leftists like Respect D.C. As my colleague Jay Nordlinger observed a few years ago, far from providing “dead-end jobs,” Wal-Mart is often the first step on the employment ladder. Two-thirds of its managers rise from the ranks of hourly employees.
Wal-Mart isn’t perfect. Its low prices are partly attributable to vast imports from China — and it’s impossible to know which products are the work of slave labor and which are not. The company embraced ObamaCare, perhaps because it knew it would hurt competitors more than itself. But the D.C. council’s punitive swipe at the chain is the perfect embodiment of liberal governance — rejecting jobs and low prices and embracing continued poverty — all while calling it “respect.”