Wal-Mart raises still will leave many unable to pay expenses

WASHINGTON -- For roughly 500,000 Wal-Mart workers set to receive pay raises, something is better than nothing.

But it's still not much. It still won't be enough for many of them to afford housing and transportation and feed and raise children without government aid, according to economists and researchers.

The nation's largest private employer -- with 1.3 million jobs -- unveiled a salary bump for many of its lowest-paid workers Thursday, promising a 1.1 percent increase in the average full-time wage over the next year, to $13 an hour. Part-time workers would get a 5.2 percent raise, to an average $10 an hour, by February 2016.

Both figures still fall below the $15 an hour "living wage" many union-backed Wal-Mart employees have been pushing for. Workers also are campaigning for steep wage hikes at other major non-unionized employers, including McDonald's and other fast food chains.

Despite the raise, incomes for many Wal-Mart workers would still hover near the poverty line.

Wal-Mart's reputation has been pummeled by long- standing complaints its workers can't even afford cars to shorten their commutes. Many depend on families, friends, churches and Medicaid and other forms of government assistance, experiences that contradict the career possibilities being advertised by Wal-Mart.

"As important as a starting wage is, what's even more important is opportunity, and we'll continue to provide that ladder that any of you can climb," Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon said Thursday in a note to employees.

But the announcement was clearly a recognition that workers in the retail economy are finding fewer ladder rungs to climb.