Walmart used to hire people to simply stand – or sit, or lean on crutches – around and say “Welcome to Walmart” to people as they came in. This is clearly not a particularly intensive use of labour but they were all happy with it so why not? The employer, Walmart itself, seemed happy enough to pay the cost, the people who did the job turned up and cashed the paychecks so we’ve got to assume they were happy enough to do the work.
This is now changing. Those greeter jobs are being replaced by “customer host” jobs. Which require the ability to clean up messes, tote the occasional barge and or bale and so on. These are jobs less obviously suited to those disabled – so, many of those disabled are losing their jobs.
All of which is exactly what we would expect to happen in a world with higher minimum wages. The labour that is employed needs to be used more intensively and thus those whose labour cannot be used so intensively don’t get jobs.
NPR has found that Walmart is changing the job requirements for front-door greeters in a way that appears to disproportionately affect workers with disabilities. Greeters with disabilities in five states told NPR they expect to lose their jobs after April 25 or 26. Walmart is the largest private employer in the U.S. and has a large workforce of workers with disabilities. And the job of greeter has been a particularly attractive fit, as it isn’t physically strenuous and is easy to learn. But Walmart has been eliminating greeters and replacing them with “customer hosts,” who have expanded responsibilities, such as taking care of security or assisting shoppers. The change is going into effect at the end of April. It is the latest wave in a policy that Walmart started in 2016. It has already affected about 1,000 stores. According to interviews with workers and documents reviewed by NPR, to qualify for these new host positions, workers must be able to lift 25 pounds, clean up spills, collect carts and stand for long periods of time, among other things — tasks that can be impossible for people with disabilities.
This is exactly where we’d expect higher wages to bite of course, at that very low skill end of the labour market. We’re seeing such biting happening – it’s not unfair of us to claim that it’s a result of the higher wages. After all, us humans do use less of something more expensive, don’t we? Even, use more intensively those more expensive things.
Worth noting one more thing. It’s long been claimed that employers won’t reduce the number of jobs in the face of a higher wage. Instead, they’ll make their use of that labour more productive. OK, so, what do we call making greeters also clean up spills then? More productive use of labour….