Are Walmart’s New Ways to Help Employees Pay Bills a Way to Hold Off Raises?

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) has set a new series of programs to allow its employees, or “associates” as they are called, access to part of their pay before they get their paychecks. One has to wonder why they need these very short-term, no interest loans. If their compensation was enough to cover day-to-day expenses, the services might not be necessary.

On the other hand, Walmart probably believes these workers perform tasks not worthy of higher pay. If so, the pay plans are among the only way they can help employees financially over the long term.

The world’s largest retailer’s management disclosed:

Walmart today announced a suite of new financial wellness services for more than 1.4 million associates nationwide. The new offering was created in collaboration with Silicon Valley-based financial technology startups Even and PayActiv. Associates will access the tools through the Even app, available for both iOS and Android devices.

The joint solution allows Walmart associates to automatically plan ahead for bills and savings goals, eliminating the work of figuring out how much money is okay to spend. When unexpected expenses occur, associates can access earned wages ahead of scheduled paychecks using an “Instapay” feature, providing greater flexibility and helping them avoid overdrafts, high-fee funding or credit options.

The technology is not the primary part of the program. The fact that people need advances to “plan ahead for bills and savings goals” and “figure out how much money it is okay to spend” are.

Most Americans who make more than the $10 an hour minimum wage do not have to pull money forward to cover their daily expenses. Their base pay is enough to cover these expenses without a very short-term loan. The “financial wellness services” are a means to hold wages low. Walmart does not merely pay these people low wages. It reasons that unskilled labor does not carry enough business value to pay the people more. And, based on Walmart’s margins and the large number of unskilled people it employs, the programs may be the best and most the retailer will do to aid its associates.