by Gwen Moritz
Posted 8/26/2013 12:00 am
I truly enjoy Facebook, but some of the stuff that gets passed around just makes me want to scream (or use ALL CAPS): “Did you rub any two brain cells together before circulating this junk?” The lack of “critical thinking” skills clearly isn’t limited to “kids these days.” People who are old enough to know better still participate in the sharing of “facts” that just feel so right, even though they can’t withstand even cursory consideration.
I felt lucky to get out alive a couple of weeks back when an acquaintance of the politically liberal strain posted an item asserting that 80 percent of Wal-Mart employees receive food stamps. Really? Really?
Granted: Below the management level, Wal-Mart is not a high-wage employer. Controlling costs — including labor — has been Job One for Wal-Mart managers from Day One. In 1967, just five years after the first Wal-Mart store opened in Rogers, a federal court slapped Sam Walton for running his first stores as separate corporations specifically to avoid having to pay minimum wage.
But 80 percent? Eight out of 10 employees on food stamps? Where did that come from?
The source cited, repeatedly, was an article that appeared last October on the liberal blog Daily Kos, which included the following sentence: “In fact, Walmart has become the number one driver behind the growing use of food stamps in the United States with ‘as many as 80 percent of workers in Wal-Mart stores using food stamps.’” But nowhere — and I have looked — could I determine who the Daily Kos writer (Paddy Ryan) was quoting. Quotation marks suggest authority — but only if some authority is cited.
There have been well-sourced reports over the years, including one by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette back in 2005, that found that Wal-Mart is likely to contribute more of the working poor to a state’s welfare rolls than any other employer. But that’s because Wal-Mart is often the biggest employer of low-skill workers in a given state.
It’s impossible to say exactly what percent of Wal-Mart employees are on food stamps or other forms of public assistance, but let’s consider some recent data from Wisconsin that congressional Democrats used to argue that Wal-Mart, by paying such low salaries, is a drain on a community’s public services. In the last quarter of 2012, 3,216 Wal-Mart employees were enrolled in Wisconsin’s public health insurance system. That represents right at 11 percent of Wal-Mart’s employees in Wisconsin. Public insurance doesn’t have the same eligibility requirements as food stamps, so this is not a straight-up refutation of the Facebook meme. But there’s an enormous difference between 11 percent and 80 percent. And if the 80 percent figure had any basis in fact, don’t you know that the Democrats in Congress would be using it instead of that 11 percent figure?
What’s more, food stamp eligibility isn’t about the wages paid by any particular employer. It’s about total income and the number of mouths to feed in a particular household. It’s much, much more complicated than hourly wages or number of hours worked for a single employer, although those certainly are part of the equation.
But none — and I mean none — of that matters to people who want to believe that Wal-Mart is so evil that 80 percent of its employees are on food stamps because Daily Kos said so. Let me tell you: Pointing out logical fallacies is not a path to Facebook popularity.
Here’s another one that went all over Facebook when President Obama took his most recent vacation: Bo, the Obamas’ dog, got his own aircraft to Cape Cod. People are outraged by the utter waste, which seems just like something the Obamas would do. Except they didn’t.
Bo flew separately from the First Family, but he didn’t fly alone. He was on the same aircraft (an MV-22 Osprey) with staff and supplies. We can certainly have a debate over how much vacation time this or any other president should take and how much taxpayers should spend on protecting the president and his family during his vacations, but even high school debaters know better than to use arguments that are made up. Some people, on Facebook and elsewhere, don’t seem at all interested in facts. They only care about what feels right.
Speaking of Bentonville’s most famous corporate citizen: I really hate the fact that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. took the hyphen out of the names of its stores but not out of its corporate name. That doesn’t feel right to me at all.
Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.