NEW YORK — Why wait on Washington to fix the economy when there's Wal-Mart?
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer and the biggest private employer in the U.S. with 1.4 million workers here, said Tuesday that it is rolling out a three-part plan to help jump-start the sluggish U.S. economy.
The plan includes hiring more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years, spending $50 billion to buy more American-made merchandise in the next 10 years and helping its part-time workers move into full-time positions sooner.
The move comes as Wal-Mart attempts to bolster its reputation, which has been hit in the past year by an alleged bribery scandal in Mexico and a deadly fire at a Bangladesh factory that supplies clothes to the company. Wal-Mart, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the U.S., said its plan aims to highlight career opportunities in the retail industry, which supports one in four jobs in the country.
With $444 billion in annual revenue, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank among the largest economies in the world.
"We've developed a national paralysis that's driven by all of us waiting for someone else to do something," Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business, said Tuesday at an annual retail industry convention in New York. "The beauty of the private sector is that we don't have to win an election, convince Congress or pass a bill to do what we think is right."
At the center of Wal-Mart's plan is a pledge to hire veterans, many of whom have come home from Afghanistan and Iraq and have had a particularly hard time finding jobs.
The unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan stood at 10.8 percent in December, compared with the overall unemployment rate of 7.8 percent.
Wal-Mart said it plans to hire every veteran who wants a job and has been honorably discharged in the first 12 months of active duty.
The program, which will start on Memorial Day, will include jobs mostly in Wal-Mart's stores or in its Sam's Club locations.
In addition to hiring veterans, Wal-Mart said that it will spend $50 billion to buy more products made in the U.S. over the next 10 years. Wal-Mart said that it plans to focus on buying more merchandise in areas such as sporting goods, fashion basics, storage products, games and paper products. The commitment comes as economics are changing for making goods overseas. Labor costs are rising in Asia, while oil and transportation costs are high and increasingly uncertain.
The final piece of Wal-Mart's plan is to help part-time Wal-Mart workers transition into full-time employment if they want. Mr. Simon said that about 75 percent of its store management start as hourly associates, and their average pay is $50,000 to $170,000 a year.