After months of heavy pressure  from critics, Walmart has announced it will raise pay of all U.S. workers to at least $9 an hour by April. That’s $1.75 more than the federal minimum wage and will mean raises for about 40 percent of the Walmart workforce, or 500,000 workers. New York Times reports.

It’s a significant move for workers, make no mistake.


But a little context is worthwhile:

The Waltons, who control the company, can afford to share a little of the $131 billion in revenue the company reported in the quarter. If all the workers were full-time, which they are not, a $1.75 an hour pay increase would produce an additional $70 a week before taxes for each, or $910 for the quarter. Thus, if all the workers were full-time (they aren’t) and got a $1.75 raise (some won’t because they make somewhere between the minimum wage and $9), the total cost to Walmart in a quarter would be $400 million, or less than a third of one percent of quarterly revenue. It will be less in practice.


Further context on that money: The Walton family makes more than $3 billion a year in dividends on nearly $150 billion in Walmart stock, they received at no cost. That’s probably at least triple the cost of today’s announced pay raise for 500,000 workers.

Still more context from a Walmart critic blog, The Writing on the Wall:


There are approximately 1.3 millions Americans in the company’s stores. That means that the raises will effect less than half of the employees. I would expect that most of the raises will go to full-time employees. This, of course, represents a drop in the bucket and as Catherine Ruetschlin and Amy Traub at Demos noted last year, Walmart could raise the minimum wage of all employees to $14.89 simply by not spending $7.6 billion on stock re-purchases which directly benefit the Waltons themselves.

All that means that once again, shareholder value trumps the very real lives of workers. Where else do you think that $1.61 per share came from?

A pay raise is nice. $9 is far better than $7.25. At Walmart, it’s not standing ovation material.

Look instead at Costco. Its CEO has endorsed a $10 federal minimum wage (Walmart says it will get there by 2016). No wonder. Costco starting pay is $11.50 an hour and the average employee wage is $21 (Walmart is moving to $13), not including overtime. 

Can Arkansas get a Costco, please?

Think Progress has more context, including mention that the protests about low wages undoubtedly had turned some shoppers off.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson
lauded the pay raise in a statement as “visionary.”


Color of Change, which led protests against Walmart, said the raise was a demonstration of the power of public protest, but it also said it wasn’t nearly enough.

ALSO: From Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in response to Walmart’s wage announcement. It’s not enough:

“Today, courageous Walmart workers who for years have been fighting for higher pay and better treatment from the nation’s largest employer have achieved something unprecedented: a commitment from Walmart to raise wages company-wide to a minimum of $10 an hour in 2016.

“The announcement is clearly the result of years of organizing by Walmart employees, who have united under the banner of OUR Walmart and engaged in strikes, protests, consumer education, and investor outreach to draw attention to the company’s deplorable working conditions. Few could have envisioned a group of workers forcing Walmart, ruthlessly committed to cost-cutting, to unilaterally raise wages. But, standing together, Walmart employees have done just that, providing inspiration to worker movements everywhere.

“Yet the changes in company policy announced by Walmart are inadequate for the hundreds of thousands of employees who struggle to support themselves and their families. When compared to the $16 billion in profit that the company rakes in annually, Walmart’s promise of $10 an hour – which even for a full-time worker is not enough to keep a family of four out of poverty – is meager. Walmart has not committed to giving employees the full-time hours they want and need, nor made any commitment to respect employees who are fighting for better working conditions.

“Walmart workers have helped make the company one of the largest and most profitable corporations on Earth, building untold wealth for the Walton family. For this, they are seeking a $15 an hour wage, an opportunity for full-time work, and dignity. Surely this is a small price to pay to help its associates truly ‘live better.’”