Poverty Among the Nation’s Retail Workers

More than half of the retail workers surveyed in a study last fall earn less than $10 an hour. The Retail Action Project and Stephanie Luce of the City University of New York conducted the study of 436 retail workers in New York, a location chosen because it is the retail capital of the U.S. Most surveyed worked in stores with a national presence, which means that the study reflects conditions and practices experienced by retail workers across the U.S.

About one-third of the workers surveyed support a family member on their wages, but the median wage for the surveyed workers is only $9.50 an hour. The majority of workers (59 percent) are female. Almost one in five earns less than $8 an hour, and almost 12 percent earn minimum wage. About 34 percent rely on public assistance.

Other findings from the study include:

  • Lack of health insurance and paid sick days from retail jobs
    Over 70 percent don’t receive health insurance from their job. About 25 percent live without health insurance, and 34 percent rely on government programs. Less than half received paid time off or paid sick days. Only 25 percent have ever used a paid sick day.
  • Discrimination of women and minorities
    Although Women make up the majority of the retail workforce, the women surveyed are less likely than men to receive health coverage and paid time off, or to be offered a promotion. Just over half (54 percent) of white workers received a raise and promotion after working at least six months on the job, but only 39 percent of African American workers, and 28 percent of Latino workers received raises and promotions. An overwhelming majority (77 percent) of Latina workers surveyed made under $10 an hour.
  • College degree no guarantee of higher wages
    Over 70 percent completed some college or a college degree, with 37 percent some college, and over a third has an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree. The median wage for those with a bachelor’s degree is only $11.50 an hour.
  • Majority of workers are part time with unstable schedules
    Just over 41 percent were hired as full time, and 53 percent were hired as part-time, with the remaining six percent hired as full-time flex, holiday or temporary workers. Only 17 percent have a regular schedule, and 70 percent only know their schedules within a week. Almost half said their manager changes their shift without their consent. Over a third reported that they sometimes work over 10 hours a day, but only 41 percent get paid an extra hour as mandated by New York State law. The majority (73 percent) reported that if they are sent home before working a full four hours, they are never paid for the full four hour shift, as New York state law mandates.

The study recommends changes to the retail industry, based on the findings. The recommendations include raising wages. As the study states, “The retail industry is one of the lowest wage industries in the country.”

As less than five percent of retail workers are unionized, it is little surprise that the study recommends protecting the right of workers to organize. Other recommendations include increasing public attention on the low wages of the retail workforce, combined with more active enforcement by government agencies.

Photo credit: Flickr user, sittered

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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