“It’s the principle of the thing.” Principle, it would seem, rules over the interest of the poor in Portland.
This week, the city of Portland, Oregon announced that it will not reinvest the bonds it had purchased from Walmart. The city claims that it wants to take a stand against what it calls “controversial business and labor practices.”
Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick told The New York Times that Portland “care[s] about working people, we care about the environment, we care about human health — and money talks. We don’t want our money to be saying things that are at cross purposes with values we profess every day.”
And so Portland, in keeping with its new responsible investment policy, has decided that investing in Walmart is irresponsible.
It is unlikely that the city’s decision will have any real impact on the corporate giant, but the message it’s sending is loud and clear: We don’t care about the poor as much as we say we do.
Liberal cities like Portland talk a good game about investing responsibly and caring for the poor and downtrodden in their communities. Seattle, for instance, is considering a blisteringly high $15 minimum wage in the name of ensuring that those at the bottom rungs of the ladder can make ends meet.
But, just like arguments that the minimum wage actually hurts the poor are ignored, so too are arguments that Walmart might actually be a godsend to many poor individuals in the community.
Big box companies like Walmart are one of the few companies that are willing to help solve the problem of what to do with unskilled labor. As manufacturing jobs exit the country at alarming speeds (perhaps in part due to wage hikes for American workers), jobs for those who do not yet have or may never have marketable skills are disappearing with them.
Gone are the days when one can enter the middle class with a high school diploma, and close behind them are the options for those who do not even have that. What Walmart does, in essence, is provide those people with a stepping stone to something better — if they choose it.
Perhaps that means that Walmart has the responsibility to pay its workers more. But, in reality, what Walmart gives its starting employees is much more than a wage.
When reading Joe Sixpack’s application for a greeter position, Walmart sees he’s left his previous two jobs after just three months. It may well be willing to give him a chance at a low wage, and if he proves himself, bump him up to the next pay grade (the average wage for a Walmart worker is a respectable $13.20/hr).
Though the worker may have started out low, what Walmart is really giving him is something more valuable: opportunity where he might not have had it before. Make no mistake: If someone is working at Walmart, that is the best option they have. Why not let them take it?
Additionally, it’s important for cities not to forget that Walmart provides goods and services that are often unavailable to poor people, as they are offered at steep prices elsewhere.
The company’s largest consumer base comes from those in households with under $70,000. Walmart is the country’s largest grocer. It provides generic drugs at low costs and offers affordable eye care. Clothing, appliances, furniture, anything you can name, all exist at Walmart for incredibly low prices, allowing the poor in communities access to things that they would not be able to afford otherwise, dramatically increasing the quality of their lives.
Booting Walmart out of cities robs the poor of those opportunities and the chance to make their lives better by denying them access to the work and cheap goods they need. Choosing not to invest in Walmart because of its supposed impact on the poor shows how little city councils know about the impact of businesses on their communities.
Even worse, divesting bonds robs the city of a safe source of revenue from which they could conceivably support welfare and other systems that provide emergency services to those selfsame poor and working people who could use short-term help in a time of need without footing them and others with more taxes.
To be sure, Walmart is hardly a perfect entity. That the company pushes strongly against unionized workers is certainly an attitude toward freedom of association that is contra to its American branding. Its tendency to collude with local governments to seize land under the guise of eminent domain is one of the worst abuses of the practice in existence.
But cities that divest or functionally ban Walmart in the interest of their poor and working communities are either willfully ignorant or deceitful as to their true intentions. What are these cities really fighting to maintain: the welfare of poor, or their own perception as progressive cities?
This article originally appeared at The Blaze with a different headline