The Walton Family: America’s New Robber Barons

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Walmart’s ruling family, the Waltons, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined.

The Walton family is the richest family in the United States, with more wealth than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined. The Waltons’ wealth comes from their inherited, controlling stake in Walmart. While Walmart workers live in poverty, the Waltons rake in billions every year from the company.

And the Waltons just keep getting richer.

Since 2007, while millions of Americans were having their homes confiscated and jobs eliminated, the fortune of the six Waltons on the Forbes 400 list has more than doubled to an astounding $148.8 billion.

The Waltons have these riches thanks to the hard work of their own employees and all of us taxpayers. Based on recent estimates, taxpayers subsidize Walmart as much as $3 billion per year.[1] Instead of paying workers enough to survive, the Waltons take billions from Walmart every year, while driving their workers on to food stamps and other public assistance.

Unlike their employees, the Waltons reap billions from Walmart every year.

Three Waltons—Rob, Jim, and Alice (all children of Walmart founder Sam Walton)—own over 50% of outstanding Walmart shares. This fiscal year, Rob, Jim, and Alice (and the various entities that they control) will receive an estimated $3.16 billion in Walmart dividends on those shares.

If Sam Walton’s dependents actually worked for their Walmart dividend checks this year, they would be handed $1.5 million every hour. Meanwhile, Walmart workers get an average of $8.81 per hour and are routinely denied full-time work.[2]

Amid concerns about the fiscal cliff in December 2012, Walmart moved up the final dividend payout of its fiscal year from January 2013 to December 2012 to avoid a possible increase in the tax rate on dividends. As the company’s largest and wealthiest shareholders, the Waltons were the biggest beneficiaries of the move.

Most Walmart workers can only dream of making $25,000 in a year. Meanwhile, the Waltons get $25,000 per minute from their Walmart dividends alone.

The Waltons can certainly afford to do better by their workers and the American taxpayers who subsidize their profit-at-any-cost model, but they continue to choose not to.

The Waltons, using their their investment income alone, could fund a permanent $10,000 wage increase for the 1 million hourly store associates whose work generates Walmart’s profits.[3]

 

Updated 3/5/14


[1] A May 2013 report by the Democratic staff of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce estimated a taxpayer cost of $3,015 per Walmart employee because of Walmart workers’ reliance on taxpayer funded programs. To arrive at the $3 billion figure, we simply multiplied the $3,015 estimate by roughly 1 million retail employees.

[2] Sam Walton’s dependents include his children Alice, Rob, and Jim, as well as Christy, who is the widow of his late son John. This calculation is based on share ownership data from Walmart’s 2014 filings and Walmart’s declared FY 2015 dividend of $1.92 per share (see here).

[3] According to a Forbes analysis of their large holdings in public companies, the combined fortune of the six heirs to Walmart founders Sam and Bud Walton stands at $148.8 billion (the six heirs are Alice, Jim, Rob and Christy Walton, Nancy Walton Laurie, and Anne Walton Kroenke). Assuming a 7% rate of return on their fortune, the Waltons would receive more than $10 billion annually. From 2003-2012, the rate of return on the S&P 500 has been just above 7%; the long-run rate of return is closer to 10%.

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