Samford economist studies connection between Walmart and food insecurity

Samford economist studies connection between Walmart and food insecurity
Proximity to a Walmart Supercenter appears to significantly reduce food insecurity among most categories of low-income families, according to research conducted by a group including a Samford University economist. (Walmart)

New research by Art Carden, associate professor in Samford University’s Brock School of Business, and a team of economists suggests that proximity to a Walmart Supercenter reduces food insecurity.

According to Carden, food insecurity — not having enough food because of lack of money or other resources — is higher today than before the Great Recession. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that more than 3 million households had children who were “food insecure.”

Carden and his co-researchers, Charles Courtemanche from Georgia State University, Xilin Zhou from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Murugi Ndirangu, director of Columbia University’s Nairobi Global Center, have found that Walmart is helping low-income families who struggle with this issue.

Art Carden, associate professor in Samford University’s Brock School of Business. (Samford University)

Using data from the December Current Population Study Food Security Supplement between 2001 and 2012, they calculated the distance from each household’s census tract to the nearest Walmart Supercenter and found that “closer proximity to the nearest Walmart Supercenter leads to sizable and statistically significant improvements in all food security measures except the indicator for very low food security.”

Walmart did not fund the research.

In the Birmingham region, Carden said, “For a city with the poverty problems Birmingham has, trying to influence development by preventing Walmart, Target or anyone from doing business has negative unintended consequences.”

He went on to say, “We see an important social goal, food access, being met as an unintended consequence. It is, I think, an illustration of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ principle. In “The Wealth of Nations,” Smith writes, ‘by pursuing his own interest, he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.’”

“While our economics faculty come from a variety of perspectives, what they have in common is a dedication to examining difficult public policy issues that have a real impact on people’s lives,” said Steve Jones, chair of the business school’s Department of Economics, Finance and Quantitative Analysis. “Professor Carden’s research is an excellent example of this. I am delighted that our students have the opportunity to interact with so many outstanding teachers and mentors.”

The group’s findings were released by the United States’ National Bureau of Economic Research and Germany’s Institute of Labor Economics in late June and were publicized on national media outlets including CBS News, MSN and Bloomberg as well as Canadian radio network 770 CQHR.

Related Stories