Ringing in the New Year with what might be the antithesis of true ‘roll-back’ fashion, the Walmart corporation announced last week that it would be raising it’s minimum wage for U.S. employees to $11 per hour. The pay hike comes on top of one-time bonuses ranging anywhere from $200 to $1,000 and a generous expansion of their maternity and paternity leave packages. Oh, and they’re also shuttering a bunch of Sam’s Clubs.
Of course, as with any significant news about America’s most controversial employer, the announcement quickly prompted a slew of varied and quite polarized reactions. The GOP certainly wasted no time in latching onto the wage-hike as the most recent win for their law. Meanwhile, the other side of the aisle lambasted the shift as a cynical publicity stunt, an opportunistic sleight of hand for their store closings, or simply pointed out that the bonuses probably wouldn’t have happened if not for the bad publicity swirling around the tax policy. Other, less politically-inclined minds looked at explanations that had little or nothing to do with the tax cut, i.e. a rapidly tightening U.S. labor market.
But here’s the thing about all these hot-takes: none of them are wrong, just like none of them tell the entire story. That is, as much as we love to cherry pick our preferred explanation and cling desperately to it, reality will always be infinitely more complex than that. Yes, Walmart’s tenuous attribution to the tax cuts has more to do with politics than economic reality; the president saved them billions of dollars with a swipe of his pen, so of course there’s going to be some thinly-veiled quid quo pro involved. Let the frustrated eye-rolling commence accordingly. At the same time, that doesn’t change the fact that the tax cut likely did make it more financially palatable to implement the much-needed wage increase; a wage increase that was made necessary by a changing labor market, true, but also because the era of social media has made corporate bottom-lines more susceptible than ever to public backlash.
And that’s the beautiful thing about our crazy, twisted economy: it can often turn cynical opportunism into a boost for the everyman. You don’t need to approve of the GOP tax plan to accept that Walmart hiking wages is great news, just like you don’t need to buy into the notion that it was employee welfare—as opposed to a calculated assessment of corporate profits—that prompted the decision. Because one of the oft-forgotten realities of the 21st century is that anti-corporate sentiment and the craving for social equality are becoming market forces as powerful as any. As a result, employee well-being and corporate success are no longer the mutually exclusive aims they may have seemed in the past.
Alright, maybe that isn’t your societal ideal. Maybe Walmart’s executives are still greedy profiteers who would have kept every cent of the tax savings if they could get away with it. I don’t know. What I do know is that, whatever the reason, millions of Americans are taking home more money this year than they did last.
And that’s a win everyone should get behind.