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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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October 31st, 2013
06:04 PM ET

Under fire for low wages, Wal-Mart touts veterans program, investment in U.S.-made products

Amid criticism surrounding its worker pay, Wal-Mart is touting veterans programs, investment in U.S.-made products, and a wave of employee promotions.

The retail giant has come under fire recently, accused of paying low wages. One Democratic lawmaker criticized Wal-Mart's executives as "welfare kings" last week, citing the store's average full-time hourly wage of $12.83, or roughly $26,000 a year.

"Our pay is in the top half of what retail offers, what our industry offers," Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon said Thursday in an interview with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

Earlier this week, the retail giant announced plans to promote more than 25,000 of its roughly 1.3 million U.S. employees by the end of January, bringing its annual tally to more than 160,000 promotions this year, roughly the same as last year. Wal-Mart is the largest private sector employer in the U.S.

In May, the retailer announced a plan to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years, saying it would offer a job to any veteran honorably discharged within 12 months.

"If you served your country, you shouldn't have to fight for a job," said Simon.

Wal-Mart is also touting its investment in U.S.-made products, a move Simon said is not as counter intuitive as it seems.

"The transportation and labor components are making manufacturing in certain categories very, very viable in the U.S. and the opportunity is once in a generation for us to re-establish some manufacturing in the U.S.," said Simon.

A Wells Fargo analyst recently called internet retailer Amazon the "Wal-Mart of the post-2000 period." Though Wal-Mart came late to e-commerce, Simon said the company's 4,000 physical stores give it a competitive online advantage.

"Our footprint in the U.S. ... provides us product already in the customer's zip code, already in their neighborhood. So if we can connect those physical locations with the digital world, we think there's a really, really good opportunity," said Simon.

Amazon made $61 billion in sales last year, about 13% of the $443.9 billion Wal-Mart cleared.

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