She patronizes the grimy discount stores whose prices run even lower than Wal-Mart's, and can tick off their notable sales going back for months. "I had some oranges," she recalls with a self-deprecating smile. "A couple of months ago, they had grapes on sale." And, "If it's less than three dollars for a package of six steaks, that looks like a good deal to me." (She tries not to think too hard about the quality of a 50-cent steak.) Her staples include PB&J, canned ham salad, soup: "I'll get chicken noodle or Campbell's Chunky. There's meat in there. You can pour it over noodles and put butter on it. It's like a delicacy."
In essence, the nation's biggest employers of unskilled labor often leave workers having to feed from the public trough. In 2004, a year in which Wal-Mart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley.