Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer and the nation’s biggest private employer, with 1.4 million workers, said Tuesday that it is rolling out a three-part plan to help jump-start the sluggish U.S. economy.
By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
The Associated Press
The plan includes hiring more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years, spending $50 billion to buy more American-made merchandise in the next 10 years and helping its part-time workers move into full-time positions sooner.
Wal-Mart, often criticized for offering low-paying jobs and not buying more from U.S. manufacturers, said its plan will highlight career opportunities in the retail industry.
“We’ve developed a national paralysis that’s driven by all of us waiting for someone else to do something,” Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart’s U.S. business, said Tuesday at an annual retail industry convention in New York. “The beauty of the private sector is that we don’t have to win an election, convince Congress or pass a bill to do what we think is right. We can simply move forward, doing what we know is right.”
At the center of Wal-Mart’s plan is its pledge to hire veterans, many of whom have a particularly hard time finding work after returning from war zones. The unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan stood at 10.8 percent in December versus the overall unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.
The company said it plans to hire every veteran who wants a job and was honorably discharged in the first 12 months of active duty. The program, which will start on Memorial Day, will include jobs mostly in Wal-Mart’s stores or in its Sam’s Club locations. Some will be at its headquarters, based in Bentonville, Ark., or the company’s distribution centers.
In addition to hiring veterans, Wal-Mart said it will spend $50 billion to buy products made in the U.S. over the next 10 years. According to data from Wal-Mart’s suppliers, items that are made, sourced or grown in the U.S. account for about two-thirds of the company’s spending on products for its U.S. business. The company said it plans to focus on buying more in areas such as sporting goods, fashion basics, storage products, games and paper products.
The commitment comes as economics are changing for making goods overseas. Labor costs are rising in Asia, while oil and transportation costs are high and increasingly uncertain.
The final piece of Wal-Mart’s plan is to help part-time workers move to full-time employment if they desire. Simon said about 75 percent of its store managers start as hourly workers, and the store managers’ pay runs from $50,000 to $170,000 a year.
“There are some fundamental misunderstandings out there about retail jobs, and we need to do better at explaining the opportunities we offer,” he said.