In a move that could be described as both a masterful public relations stroke and a sincerely gracious decision, Wal-Mart has pledged that, starting Memorial Day, it will hire any military veteran who applies for a job within a year of their discharge. The nation's largest retailer expects to ultimately hire more than 100,000 vets within five years, mostly for jobs at its stores and distribution centers. In an interview with the New York Times, the head of Wal-Mart's military program added the caveat that company might only be able to hire some veterans part-time.
It's commendable that Wal-Mart is taking steps to help recent veterans, who, as the Times notes, have a higher unemployment rate than non-veterans. But we also shouldn't read too much into what this decision means about the company or the economy. Here are a few reasons why.
1) It's PR. Wal-Mart has been under the spotlight both for a bribery scandal in Mexico and for its labor practices here at home. The company is keenly aware that troubling headlines can drive customers away or throw a wrench into their expansion plans. So over the years, it's learned to counter bad press by taking on legitimately worthwhile causes in order to change the media narrative. Such was the case with its push for environmental sustainability in the past decade, which also just happened to wring costs from its supply chain. This time around, along with veteran hiring, the company says it will push to source more of its goods domestically. Again, we should all credit them for the effort. But that doesn't mean forgetting the black marks on their record.