The Waltons currently own 49 percent of Walmart stock.
That's right. The six Waltons, heirs to Walmart founder Sam Walton, not only have a net worth equal to the combined wealth of the bottom 30 percent of Americans, as we learned this week from University of California economist Sylvia Allegretto, but they also own and control nearly half of Walmart, the world's largest corporation.
That's an astounding fact. Last year, Walmart had sales of $422 billion and generated $16 billion in profits. That's quite a cash stream for a single family to be able to dip into, year after year.
While one could argue that other wealthy corporate founders made their money by producing something that benefited society as whole -- the founders of Google, Apple, and Microsoft, for example, introduced products that fueled the creation of many new businesses and jobs -- that's not the case with the Waltons.
Sure, Walmart built a more efficient system for distributing goods, but that accounts for only a small portion of its profits. The main way the Waltons got their wealth is by squeezing workers at every point along Walmart's supply chain.
The Waltons are a fitting face for the 1% (actually the 0.000006%), because Walmart has arguably done more than any other company to undermine the American middle class and force an ever-growing share of the population into working poverty. As Walmart has grown, it has eviscerated two key pillars of the middle class -- small business owners, who have lost their livelihoods by the tens of thousands, and union-wage manufacturing workers, more than 3 million of whom have seen their jobs shipped to low-wage countries, thanks largely to pressure from Walmart and other big-box retailers.
In exchange for all the family-supporting jobs Walmart has take away, all it has given us in return are very low-wage jobs working in its stores. The average Walmart worker makes just $8.81 an hour, data from IBISWorld show, and requires $943 a year in Medicaid and other public assistance, according to information from the state of Ohio.
This is how the Waltons made their billions and, indeed, continue to profit every time someone shops at Walmart.
Stacy Mitchell is the author of Big-Box Swindle and is a senior researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where she directs initiatives on independent business and community banking. You can follow her on Twitter.
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