A Washington DC City Council bill will require Walmart and other giant non-union retailers moving into the city to pay a living wage: $12.50, instead of the capitol's standard $8.25. Walmart, which feels targeted by the legislation, says it may scrap plans to open six stores in DC as a result, sparking media sympathy not for the workers but instead for the corporation.
Recently, on MSNBC's Morning Joe (7/22/13) the controversy was the subject of debate. Sort of. Three of the four panelists championed Walmart's stance, with co-host Mika Brzezinski being the lone pro-workers voice.
Co-host Joe Scarborough called for the big business' right to do what it wanted based on its "own economic realities." Could Walmart afford a wage increase? "Maybe they can, maybe they can't, but that's their decision."
Then CNBC reporter Brian Shachtman backed him up. When asked if Walmart could afford to pay employees $12.50, his answer was "yes and no." He explained: "If they had to increase their wages like that at all their businesses, it would pretty much wipe out their profits."
Since the law would only impact DC, his answer is irrelevant. But there's plenty of research, as Salon.com's David Sirota noted (8/2/13), that shows how increasing wages would have a relatively small impact on consumer prices:
According to a study by researchers at the City University of New York and the University of California, raising the wages of all of the retailers' employees to at least $12 an hour would cost the average customer just 46 cents more during their typical trip to the store. Over an entire year, that's just $12.50.
The other panelist, former Democratic congressman (and current Morgan Stanley managing director) Harold Ford stressed the company line that Walmart could just leave DC altogether, and the stores' low prices are good for everyone.
Co-host Mika Brzezinski was the only one making the argument that the mega-profitable retail giant could afford to pay workers a little more, incredulously asking: "So their entire business model is based on paying people a wage they cannot live on?"
Brzezinski ended the segment frustrated: "$8.25 an hour? I mean, come on. That's a joke! Is there anyone here who doesn't agree with that?"
Brzezinski's call for a fair wage for DC workers reminds us of her own astonishing experiences with pay gaps: in 2008, she discovered her co-host, Scarborough, was making fourteen times as much as she was (5/12/11).
With a record like that, Morning Joe's unbalanced "debate" on wages makes a little more sense.