Last year I wrote a blog post about
this stunning fact: The richest six members of the Walton family (heirs to the
Walmart fortune) have accumulated wealth equal to the entire bottom 30 percent
Yes, six people with riches that
match the combined wealth of nearly 100 million people.
But times have changed for the
Walton clan. They’re even richer than before.
New figures show that the six heirs’
wealth rose from 2007-10 by 22 percent, to $89.5 billion. Those numbers were
extrapolated from a Federal Reserve report, which received considerable media
attention a few weeks ago because it found that the median American family lost
39 percent of its wealth in that same time period.
In 2007, the Walton family wealth was $73.3 billion, as large as the bottom
35 million families in the wealth distribution combined, or roughly equivalent
to 100 million Americans combined.
And in 2010, the Walton family wealth was as large as the bottom 48.8
million families, or about 140 million Americans combined.
The six family members are those
Waltons listed in Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans. They are children or
children-in-law of the founders of Walmart.
The University of
California-Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics devised the
figures based on the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances.
“During a period of massive destruction of wealth for typical families and
even when their peers lost some ground, the Waltons were able to cash in,”
wrote UCBerkeley labor economist Sylvia Allegretto on her blog.
“It seems what has been bad for the vast majority of Americans has been very
good for the Waltons. As the company’s then-CFO said right before the start of
the great recession ‘Tough times are actually a good time for Walmart.’ Looks
like he was right.”
At the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-backed think tank, Josh Bivens’
blog noted that the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first
Walmart was celebrated earlier this month. The EPI analyst said that Walmart’s
astounding half century of success is due to a business model that does not
bode well for low-level employees.
“We have argued previously that Walmart is a useful archetype for trends in
the larger American economy over the past three decades,” Bivens wrote. “Its
enormous size and bargaining power has led to fabulous wealth for its owners
(most notably the Walton family), while the compensation it pays its employees
is generally low, even by retail standards; and the ubiquity of Walmart stores
means that it is effectively the ‘marginal’ employer in many U.S. counties. And
its role as this marginal employer often serves to drive down workers’ wages
“The three years of wealth data from 2007 to 2010 just provides an extreme
example of how the economic fortunes of Walmart’s owners have diverged from
those of typical American households.”