EVERGREEN PARK, Ill. -- This suburb, contiguous with Chicago's western edge, is 88 percent white. A large majority of the customers of the Wal-Mart that sits here, less than a block outside Chicago, are from the city and more than 90 percent of the store's customers are African-American.
One of whom, a woman pushing a shopping cart with a stoical 3-year-old along for the ride, has a chip on her shoulder about the size of this 141,000 square-foot Wal-Mart. She applied for a job when the store opened in January and was turned down because, she said, the person doing the hiring ``had an attitude.'' So why is the woman shopping here anyway? She looks at the questioner as though he is dimwitted and directs his attention to the low prices of the DVDs on the rack next to her.
Sensibly, she compartmentalizes her moods and her money. Besides, she should not brood. She had lots of company in not being hired: More than 25,000 people applied for the 325 openings.
Which vexes liberals like John Kerry. (He and his helpmeet last shopped at Wal-Mart when?) In 2004 he tested what has become one of the Democrats' 2006 themes: Wal-Mart is, he said, ``disgraceful'' and symbolic of ``what's wrong with America.'' By now, Democrats have succeeded, to their embarrassment (if they are susceptible to that), in making the basic numbers familiar:
The median household income of Wal-Mart shoppers is under $40,000. Wal-Mart, the most prodigious job-creator in the history of the private sector in this galaxy, has almost as many employees (1.3 million) as the U.S. military has uniformed personnel. A McKinsey company study concluded that Wal-Mart accounted for 13 percent of the nation's productivity gains in the second half of the 1990s, which probably made Wal-Mart about as important as the Federal Reserve in holding down inflation. By lowering consumer prices, Wal-Mart costs about 50 retail jobs among competitors for every 100 jobs Wal-Mart creates. Wal-Mart and its effects save shoppers more than $200 billion a year, dwarfing such government programs as food stamps ($28.6 billion) and the earned-income tax credit ($34.6 billion).
People who buy their groceries from Wal-Mart -- it has one-fifth of the nation's grocery business -- save at least 17 percent. But because unions are strong in many grocery stores trying to compete with Wal-Mart, unions are yanking on the Democratic Party's leash, demanding laws to force Wal-Mart to pay wages and benefits higher than those that already are high enough to attract 77 times more applicants than there were jobs at this store.