WAL-MART UPDATE….A few months ago, Wal-Mart agreed to sponsor a conference designed to explore their effect on the U.S. economy and local communities. The conference opens Friday, but some of the papers have already been released:

At least two concluded that Wal-Mart stores’ pay practices depressed wages beyond the retail sector. Another found that states on average spent $898 for each Wal-Mart worker in Medicaid expenses.

One study concluded that Wal-Mart’s giant grocery and general merchandise Supercenters brought little net gain for local communities in property taxes, sales taxes and employment; instead, the stores merely siphoned sales from existing businesses in the area.

Not all the news was bad for Wal-Mart. Several of the studies noted that its stores led to lower prices throughout a region. Two suggested that Wal-Mart increased a county’s total employment, with one pegging that long-term gain at 1% to 2%.

Hmmm. I’d sure like to know whether those reports suggested an employment gain of 1-2 percent or 1-2 percentage points. It’s a pretty big difference, and it’s a sad commentary on journalistic innumeracy that I don’t trust the reporter to have gotten it right.

In other news, Wal-Mart has been caught trying to reduce healthcare costs by refusing to hire anyone who’s likely to actually file a healthcare claim; the Labor Department’s inspector general has criticized it for concluding a sweetheart deal with Wal-Mart regarding child labor violations; and a Wal-Mart consultant was ejected from a screening of Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price for allegedly trying to record the film on his cell phone.

Just another day….