Retail workers have cause to be cranky
A new survey sheds some light on the low pay, irregular hours and lack of benefits faced by the millions working in retail sales.
A new study supports what millions who have worked in retail already know: The pay is usually lousy, the work schedule often unpredictable and benefits like health care are as rare as an underpaid CEO.
A survey last fall of 436 nonunion retail workers in New York City -- most employed by big chains -- produced these results:
- According to the report: "Almost 60% of the retail workforce is hired as part time, temporary or holiday, and only 17% of workers surveyed have a set schedule. The vast majority, 70%, only knows their schedules within a week." Imagine the child care nightmares stemming from this national retail trend, known as "just- in-time scheduling."
- Only 29% have health insurance through their job. Of those who don't, "about 25% live without insurance and 34% rely on government programs." About half get no paid sick days.
(A side note: The New York Times reported in October that Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, "is substantially rolling back coverage for part-time workers and significantly raising premiums for many full-time staff.")
Retail workers in the Bronx were at the bottom in the NYC survey, earning $8 an hour and working just 34 hours a week, says the New York Daily News:
"The result is more poverty among working people," said Ruth Milkman, Murphy Institute sociology professor. "Taxpayers are subsidizing these stores, because the workers depend on food stamps and subsidized housing."
The study was done by a pro-union group, but the results ring true. I worked part time for a major retailer during a period of underemployment several years ago and made $6.50 an hour, then switched to a bigger chain and earned about two bucks more, if memory serves me right. My schedule was different week to week. And just like those workers included in the survey, my co-workers covered a wide age range, and many had families. Post continues below.
Retail didn't used to be that way. A family friend from my childhood supported a wife and two children on what he earned selling sewing machines at Sears. That's unlikely now.
Why is that? We can blame our addiction to low prices and cheap goods. Also, the study says, "Retailers have calculated that the cost of hiring and training new employees is less than providing benefits to retain a steady workforce -- especially as most employees receive minimal training."
The report's release coincided with the National Retail Federation's annual convention, held in NYC. Blogging after last year's opening session on retailers' plans, Doug Stephens of Retail Prophet wrote: "What was conspicuous by its absence however was any meaningful mention of the value or importance of the retail employee in actually delivering or supporting this experience."
Maybe big retailers would benefit from treating employees with more consideration. They'd likely be happier on the job. Referring to another study, the blog at Human Resource Executive Online said:
By comparison, the researchers discovered that the more hours employees at the apparel chain worked and the less their hours fluctuated, the longer they remained employed at the firm, regardless of age and job status. Stores with smaller staff size and more hours per employee have lower turnover and higher retention, the report found, while employee survey findings indicate that more-predictable work schedules led to less work/family conflict and lower stress levels for the workers. Sounds like a recipe for improved workforce health and greater productivity, no?
About 4.5 million people worked in retail in the U.S. in 2008. "In addition, given the size of this occupation, about 374,700 new retail salesperson jobs will arise over the (next) decade -- more jobs than will be generated in almost any other occupation," the Bureau of Labor Statistics says:
And turnover will also continue, the BLS projects:
Employment opportunities for retail salespersons are expected to be good because of the need to replace the large number of workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force each year.
Have you worked in retail? Tell us about your experience below.
More on MSN Money:
I have many years of working in retail type jobs. I can honestly say the conditions for the workers used to be much better than they are as of now. The last job I had in retail proved to me that things had definitely changed. Not only is it almost unheard of to get a full time job in retail, but benefits are almost none existent and for the amount the employee gets paid these days the pressures that are put on workers in order to maintain job status are unrealistic and controlling. In 2010 I had a stroke the same week I was supposed to go to two interviews that I had managed to finally get after 6 months of searching. I have been looking at what is out there lately and it's not that there are no jobs available. It's that some of us who "got locked in a genre" have to become unconventional and learn new ways of getting things done in order to overcome the current situation we find ourselves in.
I used to work @ David M. Mangelsens a family owned retail business and I have to say that after working for both corporate retailers and family owned retailers...family owned retail businesses top the cake!
This is spot on. Retail jobs create the working poor. You do not earn enough at a retail job to support yourself - it's good for supplementary income only. Schedules that change every week mean that working a second job is impossible, even for part time workers. My friends working at WalMart say the fastest way to get laid off is to put restrictions on your availability to work - which you would have to do for a second job.
Most WalMart associates are hired to work 32 hours a week. By making most of the work force part time, benefits are greatly reduced and workers are not eligible for unemployment in most states when they are terminated.
Who cares about a few retail people being treating poorly, you say? WalMart is the largest employer in the United States. What is the economic impact to the country when the most highly available jobs (entry level retail) don't pay living wages or have basic benefits? You still don't care? Most people working these jobs don't earn enough to pay taxes, especially if they are getting earned income credits from dependents. These entry level jobs are raising taxes for the rest of us.
While politicians squabble over things the country dries up. if the government were not so involved in every facet of our being and it were held to the Constitution the people would
sort out these problems or they would never have happened. by watching the candidate debates you can see bickering and grid lock will continue regardless of who is elected in 2012.
Back to the subject at hand. In the past the largest companies in the u.S. were manufacturing today they are service companies. General Motors was the largest in the world, today it is Wal-Mart. retail and service companies do not and will not pay the wages that manufacturing
can. A GM assembly line worker made twice what a Wal-Mart employee makes now twenty years ago. The future for the average worker in this country is bleak. Our president is campaigning on more education, not increased industrial output. The reason being the government controls our educational system which is a joke. If the American people do not wake up and demand their elected officials revert back to the principals outlined in the Constitution. We will continue on the road to perdition. We have been heading down that path for the last 80 years, there is no free lunch. The accumulation of those 80 years are now coming home to roost. Remember government has nothing, other than what it takes from one to give to another(which is a form of theft). The government produces nothing. Whether Buffet pays 50,000 a year in taxes or 50,000,000 it will not curb the government's voracious appetite
for money and control. By the way contrary to the way the president puts it buffet pays more money in dollars than his secretary, he just pays a lower percentage number. The more you tax the producers. The less they have to invest. The less they invest the fewer jobs are created.
There is a book written in which a people's god asks for a contribution of 10%. It does not say if you make more you pay a higher percentage. Remember the government does not create meaningful jobs, the individuals and producers do.
My wife has worked in retail for almost 20 years. She works at a large chain store and is well paid with benefits, including health and profit sharing.
Yes, I worked in retail, but only in high school and college. The work was tedious and boring and certainly not a career choice. The pay was minimum wage, but I never dreamed it should be more. If I were a great sales person, I would have sold cars or insurance and made commission. (And no, my parents didn't pay for college - I worked may way through and paid back school loans for years.)
I think you nailed it with the quote about the cost of retention exceeding the cost of hiring and training new employees. And it shows - except in small family owned shops, customer service is a thing of the past because no one gets any training. I would rather shop on the internet where I don't have an expectation of being treated like a human being. I expect jobs in retail to start disappearing in spite of the BOL statistic.
Whining about reality isn't going to improve anything. Today's retail workers need to think about what skills they have to make themselves valuable to employers tomorrow.
Reality is even sleazier than this story portrays.
Former welfare Moms who reach their 5 year (in a lifetime) on government handouts (Temporary Aid for Needy Families) who were getting up to $500 a month + stamps + medicaid + begging privileges at all the charities are usually forced into these retail jobs. The clothing expense for the walking mannequins eats their paychecks as the bosses want the employees wearing the latest stuff on the floor and have the privilege of doing so for 30% off the tag prices. Mind you, these unpredictable hours are farmed out to jilted moms who are forced to put their children in questionable government subsidized daycare if it is available. The perks, the employers have a slave they can threaten with homelessness to 'motivate' her plus a government tax credit all for the amazing wage of $7.85 an hour with no extras.
Why are so many children in poverty? Because women are being taken advantage of by:
1. Men who want unattached sex or demand it in exchange for the privilege of spending time in his company.
2. Charity docs who charge $250 to get a female set up on birth control.
3. No possible way a person can have a child and work when earning minimum wage. Questionable daycare situations for the ones who do put the kids in daycare on government aid.
4. No Pell Grants offered until a needy kid reaches 24. They stay in service jobs longer, party, end up pregnant and in trouble earning nothing.
5. Cycle feeds back on itself with the Mom looking for a new man when her 5 years of emergency aid runs out and she can't make it working.
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