Walmart Employees Working Hard, Going on Food Stamps

When Stephanie Ballam finishes her shift at a Walmart Super Center near Columbus, Ohio, she sometimes picks up a few groceries—items she might have put on the shelves herself hours before: a box of oatmeal, a can or two of mini ravioli.

At the checkout, first she swipes her Walmart employee card to get her store discount. Then, because she doesn’t earn enough money at her job to make ends meet, she will often pay for the groceries with food stamps, using her Electronic Benefits Transfer card. Eventually, that money will show up in Walmart’s annual earnings report as sales.

Ballam, 31, is glad to have her job at Walmart. She currently works there full-time and just recently got a raise to $9.10 an hour; she thinks the raise might be enough to disqualify her from the food stamp program, though the state hasn’t processed the paperwork yet. For now—and for the last three years since she’s worked at Walmart, plus a few months before that when she was unemployed—food stamps have helped her survive. Back when Walmart first hired her and she found out how much she would be making, hearing the number was “like being punched,” Ballam says. Her starting hourly wage was $7.25. As for food stamps, “I knew that I would still need those services,” Ballam says.

This is the opening to the second part in a series in a joint collaboration between Marketplace and Slate called “The Secret Life of a Food Stamp.” Walmart brings in more food stamp revenue than any other company, and much of it comes from their employees. “I’d always considered people who use food stamps as just taking advantage of the government,” one employee says. He thought these people “weren’t working hard enough to be able to afford for themselves.” He changed his mind when he noticed that his hardworking coworkers were going on food stamps, and then eventually had to go on food stamps himself.

Photo: Walmart World



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