Walmart said on Thursday that it was raising wages for 425,000 of its employees in the United States, as the giant retailer and other companies face mounting pressure to increase pay for low-wage workers.
The wage increases mean that about half of its 1.5 million workers in the United States would earn at least $15 an hour, Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, said on a conference call with investors.
The move, which was announced as part of the company’s fourth-quarter earnings, does not raise the Walmart’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, which rivals like Target and Amazon have already done.
Walmart’s minimum wage remains at $11 an hour for many workers, though the company has been raising its starting pay for select positions during the pandemic.
The announcement of higher wages comes about a week after Mr. McMillon met with President Biden and his top economic advisers to discuss, among other issues, the administration’s interest in raising the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
On the conference call with investors, Mr. McMillon was asked about whether the company would eventually raise wages for all its employees to $15 an hour.
Mr. McMillon said the $15-an-hour minimum for all workers was an “important target but it should be paced in a way that is good for the U.S. economy.”
He said the wage increases announced on Thursday were part of helping workers build a career at Walmart by paying workers more over time as they moved into managerial roles.
Mr. McMillon said the new wage raises would be geared toward workers who had been with the company for some time and would be focused on digital and inventory management roles, which have been an important part of the company’s growing online grocery business.
“On the wage side, you will see us continue to make investments at the right time,” Mr. McMillon said.
New claims for state unemployment remain stubbornly high as the labor market struggles to regain momentum after the winter surge in coronavirus cases.
A total of 862,000 workers filed initial claims for state unemployment benefits last week, roughly the same number as the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday, while 516,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program for freelancers, part-time workers and others normally ineligible for state jobless benefits. Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 861,000.
Economists say the economic crisis has probably peaked, but the lasting damage to the labor market is uncertain. That could become clearer in the coming months.
Unemployment claims “really have been at an elevated level for a long time,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist for the accounting firm Grant Thornton. “What’s going to be key going forward is do they plummet at some point in time or are there some longer-term issues?”
Congress continues to work on a $1.9 trillion relief package proposed by President Biden, but adding to the urgency for Democratic lawmakers is the expiration of supplemental unemployment benefits in mid-March. The Biden proposal would extend them through September.
There have been some positive signs for the job market in recent days. Retail sales surged 5.3 percent in January, a bigger gain than expected, most likely powered by the latest round of stimulus checks.
AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the career site Indeed, said retail job postings on Indeed were up 2.6 percent from February 2020. Over all, job postings on the site are up 3.9 percent.
“We’re making progress, but there’s definitely still a ways to go,” Ms. Konkel said. “What needs to happen is they need to be up and elevated for a while to pull all of those people back into the labor market.”
But the economy is still weak. The Labor Department’s employment report for January, which showed a gain of just 49,000 jobs, reaffirmed the pandemic’s devastation. Of the 22 million jobs that disappeared, roughly 10 million remain lost.
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