At the heart of income inequality….is Goodwill

Did you know that Goodwill is one of Milwaukee’s fastest growing retailers? The metro Milwaukee area supports 15 stores and there are two more set to open soon. Goodwill of SE WI has increased revenues 90% since 2009 to $127 million in 2014. They have numbers that any retail establishment would kill to have.

Same-store sales at the nonprofit rose 5.1% last year. By way of comparison, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s same-store growth was just 0.5%.

This isn’t an isolated case. Across the U.S. and Canada, Goodwills are bustling with shoppers.

In 2013, retail sales at Goodwill organizations in the two countries totaled $3.79 billion. That was up 57% from 2009 — 10 times the percentage sales growth at both Kohl’s and Target.

Goodwill sells used household goods and clothes. You know, necessities. So, why the huge increase in sales? Because many people can’t afford to buy those things new anymore. They’re too poor.

From 2007 through 2013, data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate, the number of households in the four-county metropolitan area with inflation-adjusted income of less than $25,000 a year increased by about 28,000.


While it is great that the stores are nice and the bargains are good, it doesn’t hide the fact that people have to shop here because they don’t have any other options. There continues to be an ever widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” in the United States. Policies decisions like union busting, de-funding of education, denying healthcare coverage, doing away with consumer and environmental protections, while cutting taxes has led to a huge disparity between the wealthy and the poor in this state and in this nation.

Goodwill’s success is really America’s failure.


Related Articles

9 thoughts on “At the heart of income inequality….is Goodwill

  1. Nancy, thank you.

    Capitalism runs on sales.

    “Without spending–there are no sales;

    Without sales–there are no profits;

    Without profits–there is no demand for workers;

    Without demand for workers–there is no job creation;

    and without job creation–there is no recovery!”


  2. All your points are true as far as they go but I don’t necessarily agree with the ‘failure’ part. Resale shopping has become more popular for a few other reasons as well – high end clothing, vintage and antique items, and housewares are available at way better prices than the normal spots to shop for them. And there is a growing movement to take the re-use/recycle philosophy to the next level by not participating in the constant replenishment of ‘cheap crap from China’ frontline purchasing.
    Right now malls are struggling because that style of shopping has fallen out of favor. It’s unfortunate that shopping at Goodwill or St. Vincent De Paul is still considered a step down; in my opinion it’s another smart way to make your money go farther, and more responsible than shopping WalMart for the same items.

  3. Excellent piece and comments, except for the comment claiming, in a first person pronoun, any thought about the subject.

    NN’s final sentence is true but deserves a much expanded follow up. I would substitute unregulated capitalism for the word America for starters, i.e. “Goodwill’s, “success,” is unregulated capitalism’s predictable result.

    The article has a good summary of the symptoms of unregulated capitalism, which are the various faces of growing mass poverty, but for the most part this is NOT the FAILURE of capitalism. Again we are merely experiencing the predictable results of capitalism, in a game that is rigged to produce the result before us.

    Beyond the personal shopping for immediate needed goods and services, there are continuing rising food and fuel costs and also medical costs as extractive industries exacerbate environmental degradation contributing further to poor health results, as I said this deserves a wider discussion.

    Thanks for the post NN, a great opportunity to expand on the not always so obvious.

  4. Great topic, Nancy, but I disagree with you that Goodwill represents a failure. In a way it represents a success for the needy at various levels and the frugal including the middle class based upon my experiences dating back to the late 1930’s when my mother would take me shopping at “the Goodwill” in Milwaukee and currently shopping at the Goodwill in nearby Eau Claire. Other factors in its growth is that used books, regular retail merchandise such as condiments, utensils, XMAS items, and other such normal retail merchandise has been added to their operation including job training and other items.

    I remember well the old,two story building on the south side of Milwaukee with its creaky floors, the lack of decorations, the bins of used articles amidst a dreary or grey backdrop. The Goodwill store was not far from the other two parts of my prepubescent life, the “World” movie house and Vieau Elementary. I was at an age when I did not know my parents were poor, because we were no different from everyone else nor that our family,for a while, was on the dole, or “county” now known as welfare.

    The growth that you refer to is explained by the fact that from its 1902 founding of a single facility by a Methodist minister in 1902, Goodwill has expanded its retail operation to 2600 other cities and in a number of South American countries and elsewhere along with adding new items and services; it is not due primarily to an increase of the poor or needy.

    Despite some complaints on employee and executive pay, and “profit,” thank God for Goodwill back then and now.

  5. “… the organization has a slogan — “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”

    Does the slogan remind you of anyone?

  6. What about national policies that led employers to cut hours below
    30 per week. Does that lead to less our more income? I just can’t figure it out…

    1. With absolutely no specifics in your two questions, your final sentence is entirely superfluous.

Comments are closed.