What do you do when you get your first paycheck?
What about when you are a Walmart employee and you decide to take the company up on its offer to move to the suburbs?
If you answered “not very much,” then you probably aren’t alone.
The average American worker in 2016 earned just over $15 an hour, a figure that is still far below the nation’s national median income of $23,000.
For the first time since at least 1995, Walmart’s annual report says the company is “working hard to improve” its pay.
But the average Walmart worker, according to a new study, is likely to get the short end of the stick.
“Most workers have little incentive to take up Walmart’s offer,” said Elizabeth Wechsler, the author of “Walmart and the Future of the Workplace: How to Get Paid in the 21st Century.”
Walmart’s “new approach” to pay is an attempt to “make more money” for employees and their families, said Wechssler, an assistant professor of public policy at Cornell University.
“What it’s really trying to do is to try to make more money,” she said.
The study, by Cornell’s Center for Workforce Innovation and Management, examined Walmart’s pay policy in the past two years.
The firm’s research found that employees who work in Walmart’s stores get about 12% more than they would get if they worked at other companies.
Walmart has been criticized for its “zero-sum” approach to its compensation, which gives employees less pay for working more hours, but also says it is a “flexible” company that will offer workers what they need to stay in the company.
“It’s a little surprising that Walmart’s offering seems to be so high compared to other companies,” Wechsdler said.
“But we can’t blame the company for this.”
The study found that Walmart workers are likely to take jobs with the company if they feel like they will be better off working at Walmart, the study’s authors said.
For example, employees at Walmart could get up to $11,500 per year more than their counterparts at other businesses in other states, the report found.
But that could leave them worse off than they were before they started working at the company, the researchers said.
At Walmart, most employees have “little incentive to get up at 4 a.m. every day to do the same thing, so they work less,” Weechsler said, citing a recent study that found Walmart employees are paid less than other employees.
Wechsenkler said it’s also not surprising that people would take Walmart’s job offer.
“They’re making money,” Weachsler explained.
“The company wants to make sure they have enough money to stay afloat.”
Walmart, for its part, says it doesn’t track employees’ hours.
The company’s own data, however, shows that its workers, especially those with disabilities, are among the least likely of any American workforce to be working more than 30 hours a week.
And Walmart’s own survey of its employees showed that nearly a third said they are likely “to leave Walmart at some point.”
A 2015 study by the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute found that most workers who receive unemployment benefits and have had their benefits cut are working fewer than 30% of their usual hours.
“If you look at the data, you can’t find any evidence of the company changing its pay policy to make it better,” Wechtstein said.
Walmart is trying to change the way it pays workers in the hope of boosting its bottom line, said David Stemple, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
“This is one of those issues where the company wants you to think that if you work at Walmart and you get a raise and you’re a Walmart worker you should be able to stay at Walmart.”
Wechsielser said she hopes Walmart’s effort to change its pay structure is paying off.
“I think the company’s going to be really good at this, and if it does, it will make Walmart a much better employer,” Weichsler added.
But it could take a long time.
Walmart’s strategy may have paid off so far, but Wechschsler and other researchers said that if the company does not implement its new pay plan quickly, it could be too late.
“There are a lot of people who will go back to Walmart for the same pay they were making before Walmart came along,” Weuchsler noted.
“And it could make all of this a lot worse.”