The wage gap at Wal-Mart between the highest paid executive and the lowest paid clerk has narrowed this past year — but not because of anything the corporation did to compensate its army of low-wage workers. Because Wal-Mart’s stock performed poorly this past year, and because CEO Lee Scott’s pay is tied to stock performance, Scott’s drop in income narrowed the wage gap. According to Bloomberg News, Lee Scott made “only” $17.5 million this past year at the helm of Wal-Mart, including salary and stocks. This represented a 24% drop in pay for the Chief Executive Officer. But before you start feeling bad for Scott’s lost millions, consider this: A Wal-Mart clerk making $9.50 an hour would have to work 1,842,105 hours to earn what Lee Scott made in a year. That’s 54,179 weeks at 34 hours per week, or 1,038 years on the job to equal one year of Lee Scott’s time. Put another way, it would take 21 Wal-Mart clerks working an entire career at Wal-Mart, from age 18 to retirement at age 67, to earn what Lee Scott made last year at his “reduced” rate. When Lee Scott tours his next Wal-Mart superstore, he can tell the cashier as he checks out, “this year I only made 1,038 times more money than you did.” In one day, Lee Scott earns more money than a Wal-Mart cashier makes in 4 years. In two hours, Scott earns what that cashier will gross in a year.
One of the misunderstood aspects of Wal-Mart wages is that the hourly workers often do not make consistent hours from week to week. A worker making $9.50 per hour, for example, may be sent home early one afternoon, because each store’s payroll is based on its sales. So if sales drop, the payroll for that week needs to drop also, and workers do not get in their full hours. The store manager needs to “make his payroll.” The wage rate is thus misleading, because it does not annualize out to the full amount one would expect in a predictable job. Wal-Mart workers have no predictability in their work, unless they are on a salary. The rest of the field hands work at the pleasure of management, and when sales drop, hours drop.