Independence and Joy

Paul Jacob
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Posted: Dec 29, 2013 12:01 AM
Independence and Joy

Maybe, just maybe, we should make it easier, rather than more difficult, for Walmart to create jobs.

There’s certainly a lot of demand for Walmart positions. Take the case of the job Christina Ford landed. The 24-year-old mother of three became one of 600 associates that the world’s largest company recently hired for new stores in Washington, D.C. That’s 600 jobs out of the 23,000 people who applied.

All this after a prolonged battle by the city council and organized labor against allowing Walmart in or, once in, looking for some way to penalize the company for the sin of selling products for less. Without union labor.

Ford sees her new job as a wonderful Christmas present, excited that it will allow her to buy her three children Christmas presents. This year will be better than last.

“I like buying my kids things they never had before,” Ms. Ford told Washington Post reporter Annys Shin. “I like that I don’t have to ask people for anything.”

Quite a different feeling from the family discussed last week in this column. Unlike the Fords, last week’s family had three members collecting food stamps and was busy seeking other free handouts, not looking for work. The 22-year-old daughter in that family described her existence as “pathetic.”

There is a joy in independence; dependence produces the opposite emotion.

Ford now has her own apartment . . . with a Christmas tree. Last Christmas, she and her kids stayed at a cheap hotel after the shelter ran out of room, and her kids’ presents came as donations from Toys for Tots.

But The Washington Post report isn’t quite celebrating Christina’s new job just yet. The front-page feature is headlined, “A job brings holiday hope — and uncertainty” and the sub-head reads, “D.C.’s store’s wages buy gifts for her children, but can they support the family in the long run?”

Doesn’t seem that the job “brings” any new “uncertainty.” But, it is a fair question: Can her job with Walmart “support” Ford’s single-parent-headed family of four?

First, we might ask: What’s the alternative? Can unemployment better support this family?

Ford was smart enough not to tell reporters what she’s making, but according to news reports Walmart is paying its D.C. store employees $12.39 an hour to start. That’s well above the city’s minimum wage, but, at $22,500 a year, it’s still below the city’s official poverty line for a family of four.

There’s the rub. Supporting a family of four isn’t easy. And, of course, having children out of wedlock has long served as the express lane to poverty.

But it doesn’t make any sense to blame the job-supplying Walmart for not being able to pay enough to allow an unskilled entry-level worker to immediately support a four-person family in expensive Washington, D.C.

Just how big a family should an unskilled entry-level job be able to support?

Though employed full-time, Ford does still receive government help. As part of the city’s Rapid Re-Housing Program, she now lives in a two-bedroom apartment, subsidized so that she pays no more than one-third of her income on rent.

But she’ll lose that rent subsidy sometime next year and have to pay three times as much. As people move from entitlement poverty to employment, and a level of independence, one of the challenges is that sometimes the financial benefits they lose as they make greater income outweigh or nearly outweigh the greater income.

We want a land of people working to support themselves, not dependent on government. Our public policies should reflect this desire.

Stop trying to shake down Walmart. Let it and other job-creating businesses create real jobs through profit-making commerce. And don’t make it safer and easier and more lucrative to live on the dole rather than get a job and provide for one’s family.