Stop, drop, and pay retail workers what they’re worth while you’re benefiting from Black Friday
As the child of Indian immigrants, Thanksgivings were extra special because it continued the holidays for us coming off Diwali, the Indian festival of lights just weeks earlier. I vividly remember the turkey and fixings and the ambient sounds of football on the TV. But I also remember strategizing with family about which retail stores to hit first on Black Friday, the day millions of Americans with resources shop until they drop due to 5 a.m. opening times, which now start at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.
While Black Friday aims to help retailers recover losses and end the year “in the black,” the profit side of the accounting ledger, one sector of workers who desperately need to that opportunity won’t get it: retail workers themselves. Retail workers make up 10 percent of the U.S, workforce, according to the Aspen Institute, employing almost 15 million people, 80 percent of whom are white, non-college degree holders, consequently a group that voted overwhelmingly for Donald J. Trump for president.
The national average wage for retail workers is $12.19, compared with $17.09 for all workers. However, the median average for cashiers is $9.17, while the average for retail salespeople is $10.29 an hour, the largest occupations in retail. Of these workers, women and minorities are highly underrepresented in higher-paying retail management positions, and often occupy the lower-paying front line jobs. In addition, one in three workers are part-time, and half of them would rather (and need to) work full-time. These numbers put retail workers right the poverty levels, or in the red.
As Trump introduced his policy agenda recently, it is clear his priorities do not focus on workers who have felt left behind. Even low-cost retail needs to invest in human capital, including:
Increasing wages: Over 70 percent of Americans support raising the minimum wage. If raised, nearly 35 million workers would be affected, and the average age of these workers is 36. Continued low wages means a decline in purchasing power or the ability for workers to buy goods and services they need for their families. In addition, retail workers face erratic work schedules, which means stores are often understaffed and breaks are often denied or looked down upon. An increase in wages, would help bring retail workers in the black.
Pay equity: In addition to women earning less than men, with women of color bearing the brunt of this inequity, retail salesmen make on average $207 more a week than women who do the same work. Encouraging pay transparency, paid sick and family leave and fair scheduling practices address such inequity.
Workforce training: Provide workforce training and engage in creative hiring practices so women workers and workers of color are encouraged to move up in ranks. Hiring internally encourages retail workers to invest in their own advancement, increasing loyalty, decreasing turnover.
To be sure, many retail stores such as REI, Nordstrom, Walmart and McDonalds are engaging in creative policies to set a new standard where not only the business itself, but its front line workers are also in the black. Embracing these efforts everywhere? Now that’s a reason to be thankful.
Shetal Vohra-Gupta, PhD, is associate director of The Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin and a Public Voices Fellow.