Two new Walmarts are opening in the District of Columbia on Dec. 4, creating job openings for 600 new associates. Everyone knows Walmart isn’t the best place to work, but NBC Washington reports that there have been over 23,000 applications for those 600 jobs.
There have been a lot of stories over the past five years about the growing prosperity of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. But when you’re talking about a city’s economy, it’s important to distinguish between two kinds of job growth. One, which D.C. has had in spades, is the kind of thing where firms in the area want to hire lots of skilled workers at high wages leading to an influx of new affluent people. Another is a scenario where the people who are already living in the city get hired for relatively low-skilled service sector jobs and eventually the local labor market gets tight enough that wages have to rise for people to find positions. The D.C. area has had some of this latter form of job growth (especially relative to the truly bleak job markets prevailing in many parts of the country) but not nearly enough.
That’s the moral of the story with these Walmart job openings. To create rising employment and incomes for the many working class people in the area, you need two, three, many Walmarts. And you need new restaurants and new taxis and new hotels and new hospitals and new construction projects. These aren’t the “good jobs” in information technology and biotech that civic officials fantasize about, but the people who are really in need simply aren’t qualified for the fanciest jobs around. They need regular jobs. And they need enough of them so they can bargain for better wages and working conditions rather than being fearful of returning to the ranks of the unemployed.