Retail Workers Struggling This Holiday Season

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Retail workers across New York City are struggling to make ends meet due to stagnantly low wages and limited health benefits according to a Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) report released today during one of the bleakest holiday shopping seasons in memory. Recent job losses in the retail sector are likely only to make this story worse.

The 40-page report, developed in collaboration with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union (RWDSU), titled Low Wages, No Bargain: Retail Jobs in New York City, highlights the troubling economic realities retail workers face in trying to support themselves and their families.

Among the critical findings:


* More low-wage workers are employed in retail than in any other single sector of the New York City economy. Of the 1.3 million city residents earning $13 per hour or less, 176,000 of them -- close to one in seven -- work in retail.

* The report finds that three in five retail workers earn an hourly wage of $13 or less, 44 percent earn less than $10 hour, and the majority lack health insurance or cannot afford the high premiums of their employer-sponsored plans.

* The cost of a major economic sector paying very low wages is not only borne by workers; it is also costly to taxpayers. Families of New York's retail workers received the largest share of public assistance (including Medicaid, food stamps, and EITC) relative to all major sectors of the economy.

"This report makes it clear that retail workers are struggling and toiling in low-wage jobs that are hurting their morale, hopes, and sadly, their families," said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. "As retail jobs continue to be an important part of New York's economy and job creation plans, we need to work together with policy makers to build a bold new agenda to address the very real and troubling reality of retail workers' low wages and employers' low standards."

"Retail work has come to be low-wage work in New York, but it doesn't have to be" said James Parrott, chief economist and deputy director of the Fiscal Policy Institute. "In a competitive industry like retail, across-the-board standards are the best way to ensure that workers are paid a decent wage. Unionization helps raise wages and productivity for retail workers, but in many cases organizing efforts have been thwarted by an outmoded labor law system. Costco has shown that even low-price retailers can pay decent wages. And European examples show a different and far more positive picture of retail altogether."