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Crime decline less where Walmart builds a store, study finds

At a time when the nation's crime rate was dropping year-to-year, Walmart was expanding throughout the United States, and wherever the retail giant built a store, the decline in the crime rate was less than the national average. The study, conducted by the University of South Carolina and Sam Houston State University, perused data gleaned from the 3,109 counties to ascertain the effects, if any, Walmart's presence in a given location impacted the crime rate in that area. As WBTW in Florence reported Feb. 7, results indicate that it does.

Lead author Scott Wolfe, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, says, "The crime decline was stunted in counties where Wal-Mart expanded in the 1990s. If the corporation built a new store, there were 17 additional property crimes and 2 additional violent crimes for every 10,000 persons in a county."

Wolfe insists that the study was not conducted in any way to criticize Walmart, simply to find out if there was any correlation between the arrival of the retail giant in an area with criminal activity. The study was to find the "Walmart Effect," if any. Said "effect" is the numerous economic and social factors in communities, including jobs, poverty rates and retail prices, that the company alters simply through its presence.

Wolfe and David Pyrooz (assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology, Sam Houston State University) targeted Walmart's expansion in the 1990s, a time when the company saw dynamic growth while crime rates fell nationally. During that decade, Walmart expanded into 767 of the 3,109 counties included in the study.

"There is something unique about the counties that Walmart selects," Wolfe says, noting the company's strategic focus on exactly where it expands. "Walmart tended to expand in counties with higher than average crime rates. These counties were more likely see Walmart build even after accounting for crime-related predicators, such as poverty, unemployment, immigration, population structure and residential turnover."

Walmart tends to place stores in counties where there is generally less resistance to their expansion. This is done fairly easily in areas where the people have lower economic, social, and political capital whereby to mount opposition to the expansion.

Still, the study found that Walmart expansion wasn't usually detrimental to the economics of the counties in which it located. The research did not reveal didn't reveal that company growth corresponded with increases in poverty, economic disadvantage or other factors associated with crime.

According to Fortune magazine, Walmart is the world's largest retailer and the second-biggest company overall (as of July 2013), its revenues falling just a few billion behind Royal Dutch Shell. Based on growth potential, the company may top the list in 2014.

Walmart operates 11,000 stores under 69 banners in 27 countries and e-commerce websites in 10 countries, according to their website.

The study, entitled "Rolling back prices and raising crime rates? The Wal-Mart effect on crime in the United States," was published in the British Journal of Criminology.

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