The Waltons, already the wealthiest family in the US with an estimated $149bn fortune, added a further $5bn last year from dividends and share buybacks at Walmart.
The Walton family collectively owns just over half of Walmart, the world’s largest retailer which on Thursday reported it made revenues of $482bn in the year to the end of January. That is more than Austria, Thailand or the United Arab Emirates make in gross domestic product (GDP) a year, according to World Bank statistics.
Walmart disclosed its earnings to its shareholders by paying out $6.3bn in dividends and repurchasing $4.1bn worth of shares. The Waltons own nearly 54% of Walmart so their share is worth $5.6bn.
The Waltons, descendants of Sam Walton, who founded Walmart as a single store in Arkansas in 1962, are the richest family in the US, according to Forbes with a net worth of $149bn. The Walton fortune is almost twice as much as the country’s second-richest family the Kochs with $86bn.
After a long battle with its army of more than a million workers, Walmart will from Monday increase its pay to a minimum of $10 an hour. However, new workers will still receive $9 an hour until they have completed in-house training. Walmart said the increases would take average full-time workers’ wages to $13.38 an hour and part-time staff to $10.58.
Walmart described the pay hike as “one of the largest single-day, private-sector pay increases ever”. But unions said many Walmart workers still won’t be making enough money to support their families.
“It’s easier to find a unicorn than a Walmart worker who has gotten a meaningful raise, or hasn’t had their hours cut,” Jessica Levin, spokeswoman of the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, which is campaigning for a $15-an-hour living wage, said. “America’s hard-working families expect better from a company that makes billions in profit a year.”
The inequity of the Waltons’ wealth compared to the hardship experienced by Walmart’s army of workers has become a talking point in the race for the White House in 2016.
The Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who is taking on Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, said it was unacceptable that the Waltons have more wealth than the bottom 40% of Americans.
“Today Walmart is the largest private sector employer in America,” Sanders said in campaign speech in New Hampshire earlier this month. “Yet many, many of their employees are forced to go on food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing that you pay for through your taxes because the Walton family refuses to pay their workers a living wage.”
Sanders said the Waltons were benefiting from “the rigged economy” in which “the middle class pays to subsidize the wealthiest family in this country”.
“I say to the Walton family, get off of welfare. Pay your workers a living wage,” he said.
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