Trying to get by on $8.75 an hour

Danny Postel |

Last week the Chicago Tribune published an editorial bearing the polemical title "Say 'yes' to jobs: Chicago's City Council must brave union backlash and approve Wal-Mart deal". IWJ board member Rev. Bennie E. Whiten, Jr. penned a sharp response and submitted it as a letter to the editor of the Tribune, but the newspaper appears not to have run it. So we're running it instead right here:


Do the editors of the Tribune have any idea how hard it is to live on $8.75 an hour? How would the author of the paper's editorial "Say yes to jobs: Chicago's City Council must brave union backlash and approve Wal-Mart deal" like to try living on those wages and see what life is like? That's what the editors are asking residents of Chicago's south side to do by going to work for the world's largest retailer. Wal-Mart is a tremendously profitable company, yet it takes a low-road approach to its workers. $8.75 an hour is not a living wage. With its vast treasures, Wal-Mart is in a position to take the high road, paying its workers a living wage that would allow them to live with dignity rather than hand-to-mouth. Instead, its low prices involve steep costs. When a new Wal-Mart opens, small businesses in the community close, destroying jobs. And taxpayers end up footing the bill for Wal-Mart's low-road approach when workers, making unlivable wages, turn to social services (food stamps, state health care and other forms of public aid). Wal-Mart costs taxpayers. It cost communities. And it costs workers -- those laid off when small businesses close and those who have to scrape by on the multi-billion dollar company's low-road wages.

Jobs are critically important, and especially so in these difficult economic times, but as always they need to provide more than hand-to-mouth existence.

The Rev. Bennie E. Whiten, Jr.
United Church of Christ (Retired)
Board Member of Interfaith Worker Justice

On Thursday, the City Council Zoning Committee voted to give Wal-Mart the green light to build a new store in Chicago's Pullman Park.