The Walton family makes more money in one minute than Walmart workers do in an entire year. This is what we mean when we talk about a rigged economy.”
— Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in a tweet, Feb. 14, 2019
This tweet from the campaign Twitter account of Sanders, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, caught our eye. Whether this is a definition of a rigged economy is a matter of opinion, but we were curious whether his factoid was right — does the Walton family make as much money in a minute as the company’s workers make in a year?
Let’s take a look: The Facts
The Sanders campaign acknowledged that the information in the tweet came from a union-backed website known as Making Change at Walmart. The math behind this factoid is pretty simple and easily confirmed with documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Though Walmart is a publicly traded company, more than 50 percent of its shares are in the hands of the Walton family — 51.11 percent, to be precise. These shares are controlled primarily through two entities: Walton Family Holdings Trust and a holding company, Walton Enterprises. Members of the Walton family also have shares they control individually.
The three most prominent members of the family are Jim, S. Robson (Rob) and Alice, each estimated to be worth about $46 billion. They are the surviving children of Sam Walton, co-founder of the company. Other members of the family include Ann Walton Kroenke and Nancy Walton Laurie, children of Bud Walton, the other co-founder; Christy Walton, the widow of one of Sam’s sons; and 10 grandchildren (such as Lukas, worth about $16 billion, and Steuart, who is on the company’s board of directors).
When you add it up, the Walton family controls 1,508,965,874 shares out of 2,952,478,528 total shares outstanding, according to the company’s 2018 proxy statement.
Walmart’s most recent quarterly dividend was 52 cents a share, or $2.08 a year.
In other words, the Walton family earns $3,138,649,017.92 just in dividends a year, before adding in income from salaries, director’s fees and so forth. Yep, that’s more than $3.1 billion.
We have no idea how many hours a week members of the Walton family work on business, but a standard workweek is 40 hours, or 2,080 hours a year. That works out to $1.51 million an hour — or more precisely, $25,149 a minute.