updated 6/4/2009 11:36:54 AM ET 2009-06-04T15:36:54

As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. opens about 150 new or expanded stores in the U.S. in 2009, the company expects to hire about 22,000 people for new positions.

Those positions include plenty of cashiers and stock clerks, but the world’s largest retailer will also be adding store managers, pharmacists and personnel workers.

Wal-Mart is holding its annual shareholders meeting on Friday, and employees from its stores around the world are spending the week in Bentonville at company headquarters.

Unlike many retailers, Wal-Mart has managed to keep sales growing since the recession began in late 2007, helped greatly by the company’s stock of necessities such as groceries and health and wellness items. With cash tight, many consumers are attempting to spend solely on things they need.

In its fiscal first quarter, Wal-Mart reported flat profit but said its same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, rose 3.7 percent in the U.S. excluding fuel. Many retailers, particularly those who charge higher prices, reported big declines in same-store sales for the first three months of the year.

Wal-Mart, still the target of criticism from union-backed groups for its pay and benefits, has improved its health insurance coverage and opened it to full- and part-time employees. The company says 94 percent of its employees have health coverage, either through Wal-Mart or another family member.

“At Wal-Mart, we offer competitive pay and benefits and real opportunities for our associates to advance and build careers,” Wal-Mart Vice Chairman Eduardo Castro-Wright said. “Job creation is just one way in which we’re working hard every day to help people across this country live better.”

Other employee benefits include a 401(k) plan, stock purchases and discounts for workers making in-store purchases.

The company has touted its generic drugs program in which Wal-Mart is selling $4 prescriptions for many popular medicines. Competitors, such as Kroger Co., have matched the price for some prescriptions.

“During this difficult economic time, we’re proud to be able to create quality jobs for thousands of Americans this year,” Castro-Wright said.

Earlier this year, the company shared more than $2 billion with its workers through bonuses, profit sharing and payments into the company 401(k) plan.

Wal-Mart has more than 2.1 million employees in the U.S. and abroad. The company had sales last fiscal year of $401 billion.

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