Merle Haggard/Workin' Man Blues

We just kind of assumed that the folks at Wal-Mart would be familiar with the work of the man who gave the country Okie From Muskogee and gave voice to the Silent Majority during the Vietnam War. He seems like that company's kind of guy. Consider this line from his 1969 hit Workin' Man Blues for a moment:

Hey hey, the working man, the working man like me

I ain't never been on welfare, that's one place I won't be

Cause I'll be working long as my two hands are fit to use

That just sounds like the bootstrappin', self-sustaining U.S. manufacturing worker that Wal-Mart is trying to reach, right? Maybe, but it's also the point where Wal-Mart and ol' Merle agree to disagree. As Bloomberg's Barry Ritholtz reported last year, Wal-Mart is not only OK with its U.S. workers qualifying for welfare programs, it actually encourages them to do so. According to Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, in many states, Wal-Mart employees are the largest group of Medicaid recipients and, in all states, are also the single biggest group of food stamp recipients. Wal-Marts "associates," meanwhile, are paid so little, according to Grayson, that they receive $1,000 on average in public assistance.

In Merle Haggard's America, a U.S. worker could survive on his or her own with a good job and hard work. In Wal-Mart's America, a job and hard work don't even pay the bills.

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