Does Wal-Mart Increase Poverty Rates?

A new study claims that Wal-Mart raises poverty rates in the counties where its stores are located.
May 17, 2006, 1pm PDT | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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A study published in the latest issue of Social Science Quarterly is the first to examine the effect of Wal-Mart stores on poverty rates. The study found that nationwide an estimated 20,000 families have fallen below the official poverty line as a result of the chain’s expansion. During the last decade, dependence on the food stamp program nationwide increased by 8 percent, while in counties with Wal-Mart stores the increase was almost twice as large at 15.3 percent. "After controlling for other factors determining changes in the poverty rate over time, we find that both counties with more initial Wal-Mart stores and with more additions of stores between 1987 and 1998 experienced greater increases (or smaller decreases) in family poverty rates during the 1990’s economic boom period," Stephan Goetz a Professor of Agricultural and Regional Economics at The Pennsylvania State University states. Although Wal-Mart employs many people living in its communities, for most, the hours worked and the wages paid do not help these families transition out of poverty.

Another effect is that the closing of "mom and pop" stores following the appearance of a store leads to the closing of local businesses that previously supplied those stores including: wholesalers, transporters, logistics providers, accountants, lawyers and others. The authors state that "by displacing the local class of entrepreneurs, the Wal-Mart chain also destroys local leadership capacity." They encourage community leaders to think about programs and policies in anticipation of helping those displaced by the arrival of the chain.

[Editor's note: Full access to this article is only available to subscribers, or for a fee.]

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Published on Wednesday, May 17, 2006 in Social Science Quarterly
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