BENTONVILLE, Ark. – As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opens about 150 new or expanded stores in the U.S. in 2009, the company expects to hire about 22,000 people for new positions.
Those positions include plenty of cashiers and stock clerks, but the world's largest retailer will also be adding store managers, pharmacists and personnel workers.
Wal-Mart is holding its annual shareholders meeting on Friday, and employees from its stores around the world are spending the week in Bentonville at company headquarters.
Wal-Mart, still the target of criticism from union-backed groups for its pay and benefits, has improved its health insurance coverage and opened it to full- and part-time employees. The company says 94 percent of its employees have health coverage, either through Wal-Mart or another family member.
"At Wal-Mart, we offer competitive pay and benefits and real opportunities for our associates to advance and build careers," Wal-Mart Vice Chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright said. "Job creation is just one way in which we're working hard every day to help people across this country live better."
Other employee benefits include a 401(k) plan, stock purchases and discounts for workers making in-store purchases.
The company has touted its generic drugs program in which Wal-Mart is selling $4 prescriptions for many popular medicines. Competitors, such as Kroger Co., have matched the price for some prescriptions.
"During this difficult economic time, we're proud to be able to create quality jobs for thousands of Americans this year," Castro-Wright said.
Earlier this year, the company shared more than $2 billion with its workers through bonuses, profit sharing and payments into the company 401(k) plan.
Wal-Mart has more than 2.1 million employees in the U.S. and abroad. The company had sales last fiscal year of $401 billion.
On the Net:
Wal-Mart corporate site: http://www.walmartstores.com Wal-Mart Job Center can be found here: http://walmartstores.com/Careers/7745.aspx
Initial jobless claims drop unexpectedly
By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER, AP Economics Writer Christopher S. Rugaber, Ap Economics Writer – 05/28/2009
WASHINGTON – The tally of newly laid-off people requesting jobless benefits fell last week, the government said Thursday, a sign that companies are cutting fewer workers.
But the number of people continuing to receive unemployment benefits rose to 6.78 million — the largest total on records dating back to 1967 and the 17th straight record week. The figures for continuing claims lag behind initial claims by one week.
The Labor Department said the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance dropped to a seasonally adjusted 623,000, from a revised figure of 636,000 in the previous week. It was below analysts' estimates of 635,000.
In a separate report, the government said demand for big-ticket manufactured goods soared by the largest amount in 16 months in April, the second increase in the past three months. New orders have risen in two of the past three months, which may be signaling that the deep recession in manufacturing is bottoming out.
The government also said new U.S. home sales were almost flat last month, indicating the housing market's recovery will likely be slow and gradual. And an industry report said a record 12 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were behind on their payments or in foreclosure.
Stocks gave up early gains after the two disappointing housing reports. The Dow Jones industrial average fell about 35 points.
Auto-related layoffs elevated the jobless claims numbers in recent weeks, but a Labor Department analyst said no states said their claims figures were affected by job cuts in that sector last week.
The four-week average of initial jobless claims, which smooths out fluctuations, dropped slightly to 626,750. That figure is about 30,000 below the peak for the recession reached in early April. Some economists say the drop is a sign the recession is bottoming out. Jobless claims reflect the number of job cuts by companies.
Still, claims remain far above levels in a healthier economy. Weekly initial claims were 378,000 a year ago.
And the relentless rise in continuing claims for jobless benefit means the unemployment rate, which reached 8.9 percent in April, will rise in May, economists said. Many economists expect the rate to approach 10 percent by the end of this year.
Even if layoffs are slowing, jobs remain scarce. A net total of more than 5.7 million jobs have been lost since the recession — the longest since World War II — began in December 2007.
More job cuts have been announced in the past week. Cleveland-based bank KeyCorp said it will cut 300 jobs during the second quarter, while Japanese camera maker Nikon Corp. said it will lay off 1,000 workers, including some in the United States.
Among the states, California reported the largest increase in claims of 5,447, which it attributed to layoffs in the construction, trade, and service industries. State data also lags initial claims data by a week.
The next largest increases were in North Carolina, Georgia, Washington and Florida.
Michigan reported the largest decrease in claims, a drop of 9,758, which it said was due to fewer layoffs in the auto industry. The next largest decreases were in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
North Korea Incompliant
N. Korea threatens to attack US, S. Korea warships
By HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press Writer Hyung-jin Kim, Associated Press Writer 05/27/09
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea threatened military action Wednesday against U.S. and South Korean warships plying the waters near the Koreas' disputed maritime border, raising the specter of a naval clash just days after the regime's underground nuclear test.
Pyongyang, reacting angrily to Seoul's decision to join an international program to intercept ships suspected of aiding nuclear proliferation, called the move tantamount to a declaration of war.
"Now that the South Korean puppets were so ridiculous as to join in the said racket and dare declare a war against compatriots," North Korea is "compelled to take a decisive measure," the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by state media.
The North Korean army called it a violation of the armistice the two Koreas signed in 1953 to end their three-year war, and said it would no longer honor the treaty.
South Korea's military said Wednesday it was prepared to "respond sternly" to any North Korean provocation.
North Korea's latest belligerence comes as the U.N. Security Council debates how to punish the regime for testing a nuclear bomb Monday in what President Barack Obama called a "blatant violation" of international law.
Ambassadors from the five permanent veto-wielding council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as Japan and South Korea were working out the details of a new resolution.
The success of any new sanctions would depend on how aggressively China, one of North Korea's only allies, implements them.
"It's not going too far to say that China holds the keys on sanctions," said Kim Sung-han, an international relations professor at Seoul's Korea University.
South Korea, divided from the North by a heavily fortified border, had responded to the nuclear test by joining the Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led network of nations seeking to stop ships from transporting the materials used in nuclear bombs.
Seoul previously resisted joining the PSI in favor of seeking reconciliation with Pyongyang, but pushed those efforts aside Monday after the nuclear test in the northeast.
North Korea warned Wednesday that any attempt to stop, board or inspect its ships would constitute a "grave violation."
The regime also said it could no longer promise the safety of U.S. and South Korean warships and civilian vessels in the waters near the Korea's western maritime border.
"They should bear in mind that the (North) has tremendous military muscle and its own method of strike able to conquer any targets in its vicinity at one stroke or hit the U.S. on the raw, if necessary," the army said in a statement carried by state media.
The maritime border has long been a flashpoint between the two Koreas. North Korea disputes the line unilaterally drawn by the United Nations at the end of the Koreas' three-year war in 1953, and has demanded it be redrawn further south.
The truce signed in 1953 and subsequent military agreements call for both sides to refrain from warfare, but doesn't cover the waters off the west coast.
North Korea has used the maritime border dispute to provoke two deadly naval skirmishes — in 1999 and 2002.
On Wednesday, the regime promised "unimaginable and merciless punishment" for anyone daring to challenge its ships.
Pyongyang also reportedly restarted its weapons-grade nuclear plant, South Korean media said.
The Chosun Ilbo newspaper said U.S. spy satellites detected signs of steam at the North's Yongbyon nuclear complex, an indication it may have started reprocessing nuclear fuel. The report, which could not be confirmed, quoted an unidentified government official. South Korea's Yonhap news agency also carried a similar report.
The move would be a major setback for efforts aimed at getting North Korea to disarm.
North Korea had stopped reprocessing fuel rods as part of an international deal. In 2007, it agreed to disable the Yongbyon reactor in exchange for aid and demolished a cooling tower at the complex.
The North has about 8,000 spent fuel rods which, if reprocessed, could allow it to harvest 13 to 18 pounds (six to eight kilograms) of plutonium — enough to make at least one nuclear bomb, experts said. North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for at least a half dozen atomic bombs.
Further ratcheting up tensions, North Korea test-fired five short-range missiles over the past two days, South Korean officials confirmed.
Russia's foreign minister said world powers must be firm with North Korea but take care to avoid inflaming tensions further.
The world "must not rush to punish North Korea just for punishment's sake," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, adding that Russia wants a Security Council resolution that will help restart stalled six-nation talks over North Korea's nuclear programs and will not provoke Pyongyang into even more aggressive activity.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak urged officials to "remain calm" in the face of North Korean threats, said Lee Dong-kwan, his spokesman.
Pyongyang isn't afraid of any repercussions for its actions, a North Korean newspaper, the Minju Joson, said Wednesday.
"It is a laughable delusion for the United States to think that it can get us to kneel with sanctions," it said in an editorial. "We've been living under U.S. sanctions for decades, but have firmly safeguarded our ideology and system while moving our achievements forward. The U.S. sanctions policy toward North Korea is like striking a rock with a rotten egg."
Associated Press writer Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.