What It's Like to Work at the Walmart Obama Is Visiting Today

"All I can afford to eat for lunch is a cup of coffee and a bag of potato chips."
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Today, President Barack Obama spoke at a Walmart in Mountain View, California, to promote solar power. Walmart has been making a push for energy efficiency at its stores and distribution centers and has set as a goal to drive "the production or procurement of 7 billion kWh of renewable energy globally by Dec. 31, 2020."

But on labor issues, Walmart is widely reviled, and Salon has a piece up today that illustrates why. It's by a woman, Pam Ramos, who has worked for four years at the Mountain View Walmart, and says "all I can afford to eat for lunch is a cup of coffee and a bag of potato chips." She writes:

When I woke up to see the news, I could hardly believe it: President Obama is planning a visit to the Mountain View Wal-Mart where I work.

But the excitement quickly passed when I found out the store would be shutting down hours in advance of his visit. I wouldn’t be able to tell the president what it’s like to work at Wal-Mart and what it’s like to struggle on low wages, without the hours I need. I am living at the center of the income inequality that he speaks about so often, and I wanted to talk to him about how to change this problem.

My situation is not unlike that of many of the 825,000 Wal-Mart associates – and many other Americans – who are working hard, but just can’t keep up. Most of us aren’t even paid $25,000 a year even though we work at the largest employer in the country and one that makes $16 billion in profits.

I wanted to tell the president what it’s like working – and living – like this.

Things have always been tight. After four years working at Wal-Mart in Mountain View, I am bringing home about $400 every two weeks (I’d like to get more hours, but I’m lucky if I work 32 hours a week). That’s not enough to pay for bills, gas and food.  All I can afford to eat for lunch is a cup of coffee and a bag of potato chips. I’ve always done everything possible to stretch paychecks and scrape by. Sometimes it means not getting enough to eat.

Ramos goes on to discuss some recent health troubles she's been going through (she says she may have colon cancer) and the challenge she faces in paying fairly standard copays with such a small income. It's worth reading in full.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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