America's 5 biggest low-wage employers

Two-thirds of workers earning under $10 an hour work for large corporations. Here are the biggest employers in low-wage industries.

By 247 Wall St. Nov 21, 2012 4:33PM

Image: Man holding empty wallet ©, Image Source, Getty ImagesBy Trey Thoelcke, Michael Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess and Samuel Weigley, 24/7 Wall St.


The gap between rich and poor is well illustrated by the large multi-billion-dollar corporations employing thousands of low-wage workers. With the Great Recession over, not only are many of these companies now hitting record profits, but their executive pay remains spectacularly high.


Yet, according to a refport released by the National Employment Law Project, the current federal minimum wage the workers are often paid, is worth 30% less than it was in 1968 in terms of purchasing power.


Two-thirds of low-wage workers -- those that are paid less than $10 an hour -- are employed by large corporations with at least 100 employees reports NELP. All of the largest companies in low-wage industries, including McDonald’s (MCD)and Wal-Mart Stores (WMT), have hundreds, even thousands, of stores across the country. Based on NELP’s July 2012 report, "Big Business, Corporate Profits, and the Minimum Wage," 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 12 American companies that pay the least. You'll find the biggest 5 listed below.


These employers fall into one of two categories. They are are either large national restaurant chains employing tens of thousands of cashiers and cooks, or large national retailers, employing tens of thousands of cashiers and salespeople.


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In addition to low wages, many of these companies have a history of poor labor relations that extends beyond underpaying their employees. Long hours, unsafe or unpleasant working conditions, limited benefits and restricting access to full-time work, often accompany minimum wage jobs in many of these companies.


The recession has affected every company on this list. Many used the downturn to explain reductions in employee benefits, long hours, and continued low pay. However, the recession is over for a majority of minimum-wage employers. Nine of the 12 companies on this list have been profitable for the past three years. Of these 12 companies, a full ten had higher revenue compared to 2010.


Despite this fact, improvements in employee benefits or an increase in pay have not materialized for workers at most of the companies on the list.


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Based on the National Law Employment Project’s report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 12 largest companies in industries that are primarily low-wage employers. The report also provided the most recent available data on the total size of the companies’ workforces, the recent performance of the corporations in terms of revenue and profit, and the highest executive pay at these companies. 24/7 Wall St. also reviewed revenue, income, and the number of stores from company filings.

These are the companies paying Americans the least.

1. Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)
 U.S. workforce: 1,400,000
 CEO compensation: 
$446.95 billion
 Net income: 
$15.70 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 

The labor practices of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) have long received negative attention in the press, but that has not affected investors much. WMT’s share price rose more than 48% in the past five years. In 2008, Walmart agreed to pay $640 million in settlements of dozens of class-action lawsuits that claimed the company deprived workers of pay for time worked. In October a class action lawsuit was filed in a Chicago federal court alleging that the retailer had violated minimum wage and overtime laws. Walmart workers have begun to strike, and some plan to walk off the job on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Walmart has filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint against the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to prevent this from happening.

2. Yum! Brands (YUM)
 U.S. workforce: 880,330
 CEO compensation: $20,411,852
$12.63 billion
 Net income: 
$1.33 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 


Because Yum! Brands (YUM), the operator of the Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC chains, is one of the biggest employers of low wage workers, it takes benefits seriously. According to watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, the fast food giant co-chaired the labor and business regulation subcommittee of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a "corporate-funded bill mill" that encourages laws that benefits its corporate members. At a 2011 meeting, attendees considered model bills designed to override paid sick leave legislation in the states. In 2012, following negative press over ALEC initiatives and the departure of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Yum! Brands became one of several large companies to abandon the council.


3. McDonald’s (MCD)
 U.S. workforce: 859,978
 CEO compensation: 
$27.01 billion
 Net income: 
$5.50 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 


McDonald’s (MCD) is the king of fast-food, with revenue greater than any other restaurant operator on this list, and far more locations as well. The company’s website offers a long list of awards and recognition for the diversity of its workplace. But even McDonald’s is not immune to economic pressures. The company just reported its first monthly drop in global revenue at locations open more than a year, down 1.8% in October. McDonald’s USA president, Jan Fields was subsequently ousted to be replaced by Jeff Stratton, who is currently global chief restaurant officer.


Target (TGT)
 U.S. workforce: 365,000
 CEO compensation: 
$69.87 billion
 Net income: 
$2.93 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 


Shortly after competitor Wal-Mart announced that it would open its doors for Black Friday shoppers at 8 p.m. Thursday, Target (TGT) then said that it would also open its doors Thursday night. Employees were not thrilled by the news. One California-based Target worker drafted a petition calling on Target to "save Thanksgiving" and stick to its Friday opening time. More than 220,000 people have signed the petition. Target insists that it took employees into consideration before making the decision to open early. One executive said, "We had so many team members who wanted to work on Thursday that hundreds of our stores are now keeping lists of volunteers who want to work if shifts open up."


5. Sears Holdings (SHLD
 U.S. workforce: 264,000
 CEO compensation: 
$41.57 billion
 Net income: 
-$3.11 billion
 No. of U.S. stores: 

Many companies like to tout how important their employees are, and Sears Holdings (SHLD) is no different. "Our associates are at the heart of our company and we value teamwork, integrity, and positive energy," says the company’s website. Unfortunately for the employees, the operator of Sears and Kmart has struggled in recent years, as evidenced by its recent massive $3.11 billion net loss, despite having revenue of $41.6 billion. In addition, similar to Walmart and Target, Sears and Kmart stores will be open on Thanksgiving for early Black Friday shopping, meaning the employees will have to work this holiday. Sears said it expects holiday hiring to be about the same as a year ago, while Walmart, Toys"R"Us and other retailers increased their seasonal hires.


Click here to read the rest of 24/7 Wall St.'s "Companies paying Americans the least."

Nov 22, 2012 10:38AM

The hardest jobs I ever had paid minimum wage or less.You got no benefits and no respect.

Those were the jobs you had a boss that loved to tell workers "if you don`t like the way things

are there`s the door, don`t let it hit you in the azz"

Nov 22, 2012 10:36AM
Why do not you publish the information on demographics and wage distribution of people that shop at these places and benefit from lower prices? Tell the whole story and then let the public decide. People vote every day with their money by shopping at these places!
Nov 22, 2012 10:31AM
Of course these people volunteer to work holidays. They need money badly and need to work as many hours as possible to try to survivie. It isn't because they would volunteer to work Thanksgiving and Christmas. I wonder if the people who do  work get holiday pay as part time people. Don't these companies know that they are setting themselves up to be controlled by new laws that society will place on them due to this behavior? Before companies equally cared about the  three key constituents-- customers, shareholders and employees. Now the first two only matter.
Nov 22, 2012 10:22AM
As long as we have apathetic workers that put themselves first, will not support unions and will not get out to vote, they will get paid what they deserve - little or nothing. 
Nov 22, 2012 10:12AM
Don't most of these employees have very little education, no appreciable skills and little or no knowledge of business and how a business functions, and, further, have no other prospects for a more rewarding employment because of the resume just mentioned? These are persons who, for whatever reasons, made choices and decisions in their life that resulted in the prospects that present themselves.


Nov 22, 2012 10:09AM
These top CEOs who make MILLIONS a year are so out of touch with their low paid workers.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come need to pay these people a visit.

Nov 22, 2012 9:53AM
food stores definitely belong on this list as an employee of food lion the only one making money is corperate it felt like slave labor it was part time for no real money be high demand for production or find other work was the point they put across customer service is important but at what cost to the employee kiss **** and be treated like dirt !!!
Nov 22, 2012 9:28AM
Today the Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America."

 - Bermie Sanders, July 22, 2012 (PolitiFact rated TRUE)

"Six members of the Walton family appear on the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. Christy Walton, widow of the late John Walton, leads the clan at No. 6 with a net worth of $25.3 billion as of March 2012. She is also the richest woman in the world for the seventh year in a row, according to Forbes. Here are the other five:

No. 9: Jim Walton, $23.7 billion
No. 10: Alice Walton, $23.3 billion
No. 11: S. Robson Walton, oldest son of Sam Walton, $23.1 billion
No. 103: Ann Walton Kroenke, $3.9 billion
No. 139: Nancy Walton Laurie, $3.4 billion

That’s a grand total of $102.7 billion for the whole family."
Their wealth came from the work of their employees and the consumers who support them, unless they have their own printing press at the Treasury.
Nov 22, 2012 9:07AM
No one should be able to hide and hoard BILLIONS of dollars while people are starving, and people are looking for work.

Hoarders of mega-money, billions which can be invested in the economy, are low-lifes. Do something constructive with your mega-money - it's only paper until it's spent.
Nov 22, 2012 8:46AM
I think we have way to many corporate monopolies in this country, also way to much chinese made crap finding its way on to store shelves.  Consumers need to fight back by not patronizing these companies or buying this chinese crap.  We should just pack the crap up and ship it back to them.  What the chinese are doing is dumping!!  All this thanks to their hero Nixon and his Flea Mockit ideas.  So solly so solly (sorry).
Nov 22, 2012 8:12AM

Fact is, as long as the Economy is in the dumper, people will work for whatever they can get. I read all these media article about the recovery, but I don't see it, Obozo has done nothing to to create jobs. The Nation needs work on the infrastructure: Roads Bridges, Railroads, Electric Grid. These would put massive amounts of people to work but nothing has been done, just more give aways and welfare.


And bare in mind, this article lists only the five largest  employers there are many more smaller employers that take advantage of their workers and they do so because they can.

Nov 22, 2012 8:09AM
The reason that Republicans can't win elections isn't because of single women, gay marriage, or Latinos. The reason they can't win is because they are front men for big and small businesses that routinely mistreat their employees. Before you write me off as a pot smoking Lib, know that I voted for Romney. 
Nov 22, 2012 7:49AM
Nov 22, 2012 6:16AM

Slackers, takers and the lazy need not come to Texas.There are too many jobs here for the state to have a welfare dependency culture like CA, NY, IL. Of course they already know that. It is the ambitious and hard working that come here knowing they will have an opportunity to make a better life for their families. not be bled to death financially by state and local taxes, or be forced to join a union.

If unions are so good, why did they lose half their membership in Wisconsin wirhin weeks of the election there and the court ruled the state does not have to collect union dues from their pay.

Wonder why Caterpillar, GE, Ericcson etc are building plants in Texas? Certainly not in CA and other states with state supported cultures of dependency. There is over $6 billion in hospital constructon in Dallas Fort Worth area alone currently in progress. Housing has rebounded also due to a steady influx of people. people willng to work and qualify for a mortgage, not slackers looking for government housing.

In texas wages are primarily established by supply/demand and skill/knowledge required to do the job.not some phony union contract extorted from companies by the likes of Richard Thug Trumpka..

I know there are other states growing their economy,FL, AL,TB, etc but I live in Texas so i am familiar with what goes on here and I like to contrast it with CA where the only growth is in an increasingly entitlement dependency class.

Also, Texas has no state income tax or tax on food. Property taxes can be relatively high but the Marxists should like that since the succesful have to ante up more to educate the children of the slackers

Dont misunderstand, i have seen busts here before and it could happen again, especially if the current trend in Washington contaminates the states can do will do.environment. However, it will never be as bad as states that have fostered a whole culture of slackers. Makers find a way and if they need help in the short run, they will get it but not indefinitely, not in Texas.

Nov 22, 2012 1:28AM
President Teddy Roosevelt leveled the playing field between the millionaire/billionaire industrialists and labor. Since we already have history, we should study it so we can prevent these mistakes from happening again.

""Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense."... "We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less." "The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us."
 - Teddy Roosevelt, Sept 7, 1903
Nov 21, 2012 11:25PM
American greed at it's best.   How to drive American jobs into the toilet.
Nov 21, 2012 11:24PM
I see alot of blame hitting Wal-mart here but I wonder if people here are aware how BAD employees are treated under United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) are treated?  Years ago I worked at Kroger under a UFCW contract and I can tell you I would have made much more money and had better benefits working for Wal-Mart.  The idea that this union is going to "help" Wal-Mart workers is ridiculous.  The only people the UFCW or any of these unions care about is Union Management.  Like "secret" meetings between union leadership and management with union leadership suddenly buying a new car or home.  Yeh.  Kroger pays minimum wage and if your lucky you get 25 hours a week, for this generous gift you get to pay the union $20.00 per month. Don't be fooled by these loser unions the don't care about people.
Nov 21, 2012 10:40PM

Lets make this discussion really simple. Sam's club, Costco. Both charge a membership fee. The difference is. With our Costco membership we get cash back which is more than our membership every year. We have a Costco American Express card with no annual fee and cash back also on the card. Costco employees make $12-14 dollars an hour to start and promotions are available to all employees.

Their sales continue to rise and if you have a return there is never a problem. No wonder they are always smiling. Go on the internet and see how few hours they are open. They don't drive their employees into the ground and you never hear an employee complain. There are very few companies that realize the reputation of the company is made by it's employees.

Nov 21, 2012 10:06PM
The government subsidizes these companies low wages and lack of benefits by providing food stamps, Medicaide and subsidized housing.
Nov 21, 2012 10:02PM

Someone posted a response that Texas has the highest % of min wage jobs. They are jobs and exist only due to the friendly and thriving economy. This is a  person that doesnt know what oilfield jobs pay and as far as him/her bragging about SiliconeValley, he hasnt been to Austin.

Also, most of those min wage jobs are held by illegals. They are glad to have them.

If his position were valid, people wouldnt br moving here at the rate of 1000/day. There is the proof.

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