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Cashier in a store.
The retail industry's low wages, combined with a 28-cent pay gap between men and women, are keeping 1.3 million women and their families living in or near poverty, a number that's likely to rise by 100,000 workers over the next eight years if retail employers don't raise their wages. According to a new report by Demos, women lose an estimated $40.8 billion in wages to that pay gap every year, and if the largest retail employers paid their workers the equivalent of $25,000 for full-time work, the gap would start to close—even as many men also got raises.

Large retailers can absolutely afford to pay their workers $25,000 a year. Such a raise, which would lift an estimated 437,000 women working in retail out of poverty or near poverty, would cost top retailers less than one percent of total annual retail sales, nearly $5 billion less than the amount the 10 largest retailers spent on stock repurchases in 2013, and, if customers were hit with half the cost of the raise, the average household would pay a whopping $17.73 extra per year.

But so messed up are corporate America's priorities that stock repurchases and massive CEO pay rank above paying a wage that the workers stocking the shelves and running the cash registers can live on. Actually, stock repurchases and massive CEO pay don't just rank above a living wage; the latter isn't even considered a serious idea. We can see that clearly in the numbers: Giving workers a raise to $25,000 a year isn't in the mainstream corporate conversation even though companies wouldn't take a serious hit to profits or have to raise profits, let alone be driven out of business. Even though profitable companies like Costco do pay such wages. We see from this fact that paying workers a living wage is taken seriously by so few retailers that low wages aren't entirely about corporate profit (not that that would be an acceptable reason anyway). Low wages are about the ideology of inequality, about keeping some people down so those at the top can amass grotesque amounts of wealth. And as this report shows, the people being kept down are disproportionately women.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 12:06 PM PDT.

Also republished by Hunger in America and Daily Kos.

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