food_desert_1As politicians continue their surrogate decision-making in the lives of the underclass, Washington, D.C. city politics remain a laboratory for repeated public policy failures. The Washington, D.C. city council recently approved a measure that would create a living wage for workers in the city who are employed by large retailers. Sometimes, you have to wonder if the city’s leaders have considered the long-term consequences of decisions like this. D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray took about a week to decide whether to veto or sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act, according to the Washington Times. The newspaper explains what the city is up to:

Part of the Gray administration’s five-year plan to boost the number of jobs in the city includes creating a “retail-friendly environment” in the District. But retailers have argued that the bill the mayor is considering unfairly targets certain employers — specifically those without union labor that occupy in excess of 75,000 square feet and whose parent companies gross $1 billion or more.

It would force those retailers to provide pay and benefits worth $12.50 an hour — a so-called “living wage” for workers — but could potentially curtail retail expansion in the District as affected businesses that oppose the law locate elsewhere. The current minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.

The bill applies only to large retailers with stores of 75,000 square feet or larger with annual corporate sales of at least $1 billion. Stores like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Toys-R-Us, and the like are the targets of this part of the legislation. Walmart has already threatened to dissolve plans to build three stores in D.C. if the law passes. Can you blame them? How can politicians accurately discern how much Walmart should pay a cashier or someone who stocks shelves? How do politicians know how much any single job should be worth at a large retailer?


If the city of Washington, D.C. wants better-paying jobs for low-skilled laborers, a better strategy might be to do whatever is necessary to recruit higher-wage industries to the city and for the city to increase education and aptitude standards so that young adults coming out of high school have the requisite skills to be trained for more competitive positions in the marketplace. The city, however, has decided to go the other direction and introduce “living-wage” disincentives that decrease job opportunities for lower-skilled workers as retailers decide to build elsewhere.

Walmart’s threat to scrap plans to build new stores that provide local residents with jobs and lower-priced products should serve as a signal to the D.C. city council about how the market works. If the measure is not vetoed by the mayor, we will painfully watch as large retailers set up shop in the suburbs and as job options for low-skilled city residents dwindle near their own neighborhoods. By the time that narrative plays out, the politicians will be ready to blame the coming “retail deserts” in urban locales on something else, like racism or classism, instead of on policies they put into place that make running stores near lower-income neighborhoods too expensive to make sense.

  • Curt Day

    Anthony,
    Did you ever consider the need to challenge or change the economic system when that same system offers as your only choices that of paying a livable wage or employment? BTW, were you aware of the citizen protests that were staged against Walmart in the DC area?

  • http://www.acton.org/ John Couretas

    Well, half right … From the Washington Post: Mayor Gray vetoes ‘living wage’ bill aimed at Wal-Mart, setting up decisive council vote

    Gray (D) announced his veto in a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson delivered Thursday morning that explained his opposition to the bill and disclosed his intention to seek a minimum-wage hike for all employers, not just large retailers.

    In the letter, Gray said the bill was “not a true living-wage bill, because it would raise the minimum wage only for a small fraction of the District’s workforce.” He added the bill is a “job-killer,” citing threats from Wal-Mart and other retailers that they will not locate to the city if the bill becomes law.

    “If I were to sign this bill into law, it would do nothing but hinder our ability to create jobs, drive away retailers, and set us back on the path to prosperity for all,” he said.

    Gray did not say what minimum wage he would seek except that there should be a “reasonable increase.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/mayor-gray-vetoes-living-wage-bill-aimed-at-wal-mart-setting-up-decisive-council-vote/2013/09/12/664d7310-077d-11e3-a07f-49ddc7417125_story.html?hpid=z1