At Walmart’s two new DC stores, 38 people applied for every one job spot. Daniel Gross is unsurprised:
[The D.C. area’s seeming prosperity and dropping unemployment rate] hides a reality in this economy. The labor market is actually several labor markets in one. And some of those markets are doing quite poorly, even in booming areas with comparatively tight labor markets. We know, for example, that in October the unemployment rate for people with bachelor’s degrees (or more) was 3.8 percent, while the unemployment rate for those whose highest level of education was completing high school was 7.3 percent, and the rate for those who hadn’t completed high school was 10.9 percent. Put another way, people who haven’t completed high school are nearly three times more likely to be out of work than those who have completed college. And people who haven’t attended college are twice as likely to be out of work as those who have completed college. Among African-Americans, the unemployment rate is 13.2 percent, while the unemployment rate for whites is 6.2 percent.
Slack in the labor market—and the continuing weakness of unions—makes it very difficult for all but the most skilled workers to negotiate higher wages. And the intense competition for positions at the lower rungs of the labor market mean companies can have their pick of candidates while offering comparatively low wages. It’s good for Walmart that the company is finally making inroads into Washington. Perhaps the new stores will help boost the chain’s stagnant domestic sales. It’s good for the 600 new hires to have jobs at a stable company. And there’s more where that came from. Walmart said it hopes to open three more stores in D.C. in coming years, which will employ another 900 people. But the fact that the chances of getting a job at Walmart are far lower than the chances of getting into Georgetown Law School highlights a continuing problem.