Walmart’s anti-hunger program

Chicagoans’ irrational hatred of Walmart appears to continue unabated, as evidenced by a zoning hearing held Monday regarding a proposed grocery store in the well-to-do Lakeview neighborhood. Among the many misguided or myopic reasons to oppose the mere opening of a Walmart store, perhaps this one reported by the Chicago Tribune’s Dawn Rhodes counts as the dumbest:

“I don’t want them in this neighborhood, and I wish they would hear us saying no,” said Erin Edwards, 27, who works for North Side Anti-Hunger Network. “I’m all for job creation. But it would be wonderful for the people in this neighborhood to have the small stores that can provide fresh produce and to be able to pay their employees well so they wouldn’t have to need our services.”

Guess what, Ms. Edwards? Walmart is an anti-hunger program. The new Walmart grocery store could save shoppers anywhere from 20% to 33%. Walmart, all by itself, accounted for a 10% drop in U.S. food prices from 1985 to 2004, saving individuals nearly $900 a year and households more than $2,300 a year. And Walmart is slashing prices even further to compete with Target, whose prices are slightly lower in Chicago.

So, those people in low-wage jobs who might occasionally take advantage of whatever food pantry services the North Side Anti-Hunger Network provides will benefit far more from vigorous, open competition for grocery shoppers — including Walmart. How many Chicago families could pass on help from a food pantry with a weekly grocery bill that’s 33% cheaper, or an annual savings of $2,300?

Those savings would dwarf the slightly lower wages (perhaps 2%) offered to the few hundred people who will staff the Walmart. That cost-benefit comparison assumes, by the way, that there are hundreds of higher-wage, entry-level jobs that would somehow magically appear if only Walmart could be prevented from opening its store. Are those small stores that supposedly pay so well hiring hundreds of new workers in our still slumbering economy?

Hate Walmart, if you must. Picket. Try to organize their workers, if you want to press your luck. But rest assured that you’re not doing poor folks any favors by denying them a valuable shopping choice.