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Wal-Mart hires vets: Cure for vet unemployment or PR stunt? (+video)

Wal-Mart, America's biggest private employer, announces plans to hire any honorably discharged vet who wants a job. Veteran unemployment is 50 percent higher than civilian unemployment.

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Why wait on Washington 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 jumpstart 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.

The move comes as Wal-Mart tries to bolster its image amid widespread criticism. The company, which often is criticized for its low-paying jobs and buying habits in the U.S., recently has faced allegations that it paid bribes in Mexico and allowed lax safety standards that led to a deadly fire at a Bangladesh clothing factory. Wal-Mart said its initiatives are unrelated to those events, but rather are meant to highlight that companies don't have to wait for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to fix the economy.

"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. We can simply move forward, doing what we know is right."

Wal-Mart's policy shifts inevitably receive media attention thanks to the company's massive size. Indeed, with $444 billion in annual revenue, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank among the largest economies in the world. But critics say the changes amount to a drop in the bucket for the behemoth, and they question whether Wal-Mart's initiatives will have a major impact on the U.S. economy.

"America's largest retailers play an important role in our nation's economy and in the well-being of millions of lives," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. "Retailers like Wal-Mart could provide the nation with a much-needed economic boost by paying higher wages and providing stable scheduling — while still remaining profitable and continuing to offer low prices."

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