By Stacey Mitchell
Almost 30 years ago, as the U.S. was bleeding jobs, Walmart launched a “Buy America” program and started hanging “Made in America” signs in its 750 stores. It was a marketing success, cementing the retailer’s popularity in the country’s struggling, blue-collar heartland. A few years later, NBC’s Dateline revealed the program to be a sham . Sure, Walmart was willing to buy U.S.-made goods — so long as they were as cheap as imports, which, of course, they weren’t. Dateline found that Walmart’s sourcing was in fact rapidly shifting to Asia.
This year, Walmart is back with a new “Buy America” program. In January, the company announced that it would purchase an additional $50 billion worth of domestic goods over the next decade. This week, Walmart is convening several hundred suppliers, along with a handful of governors, for a summit on U.S. manufacturing .
This sounds pretty substantial, but in fact it’s just a more sophisticated and media savvy version of Walmart’s hollow 1980s Buy America campaign. For starters, $50 billion over a decade may sound huge at first, but measured against Walmart’s galactic size, it’s not. An additional $5 billion a year amounts to only 1.5 percent of what Walmart currently spends on inventory.
Worse, very little of this small increase in spending on American-made goods will actually result in new U.S. production and jobs. Most of the projected increase will simply be a byproduct of Walmart’s continued takeover of the grocery industry. Most grocery products sold in the U.S. are produced here. As Walmart expands its share of U.S. grocery sales — it now captures 25 percent, up from 6 percent in 1998 — it will buy more U.S. foods. But this doesn’t mean new jobs, because other grocers are losing market share and buying less. What it does mean is lower wages. As I reported earlier this year, Walmart’s growing control of the grocery sector is pushing down wages throughout food production.