Friday, March 03, 2006

Fair Share: can they afford it?

The five surviving family members of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton are worth $15 and half billion each, holding spots 6 through 10 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. Let’s leave aside for now (but only for now!) the questions of whether such concentrations of wealth are compatible with democracy, or what the fact that so many of the country’s largest fortunes are inherited says about our economy. Instead, let’s ask a simpler question: how much would it cost the Waltons to provide health insurance to all Wal-Mart workers?

Wal-Mart’s annual profits are a bit over $10 billion -- $10.3 bill in 2005. The Walton family owns 40 percent of the company, so their share of its profits comes to $4.1 billion.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of Wal-Mart’s 1.3 million workers have no health insurance at all. It costs Wal-Mart $3,500 per worker to provide individual coverage, so to cover all their uninsured workers would cost the company $680 million. That’s about 15 percent of the five Waltons’ share of Wal-Mart’s profits.

So the next time someone says corporations like Wal-Mart can’t afford health benefits, keep these numbers in mind. The cost of covering every one of Wal-Mart’s uninsured workers would come to less than a fifth of what the Walton family collects each year just for being born (or in the case of Helen Walton, marrying) lucky. Healthcare for Wal-mart workers or an extra yacht (island? small nation? what do you buy with $15 billion?) for the Walton family -- that is the choice.

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