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retail wage race tenure

A large majority of the 436 New York City retail workers surveyed for the newly released study Discounted Jobs have at least some college education. They've been working in retail for an average of five years, and half have been at their current job for more than a year. Half of them earn less than $9.50 an hour, only 29 percent get health care through their retail job, and of the 44 percent who do have paid sick days in theory, only 54 percent have used a sick day—in many cases due to pressure from their managers and fear of retribution.

What the report, by City University of New York professor Stephanie Luce and Naoki Fujita of the Retail Action Project, shows is an educated, experienced workforce in an industry that makes it virtually impossible for workers to make a living. Even the most educated workers, who earn more than others, earn poverty-level wages:

For those with a Bachelor’s degree, the median wage was $11.50 per hour. With a median of 36 hours per week, a retail worker with a Bachelor’s degree could expect to gross just under $22,000 a year. Respondents with an Associate’s degree had a median hourly wage of $10 and 32 median weekly hours. This results in an annual gross income of $16,640, assuming year-round employment.

And, as the chart above shows, there's a significant racial gap in wages, with Latino workers with two years on the job averaging a slightly lower pay rate than white workers with less than six months on the job. As a preview of the report, which I wrote about in December, made clear, women are also paid less than men.

One explanation commonly offered for such wage differentials within an industry is that the lower-paid groups aren't as qualified for the higher-paid jobs in the industry. In this telling, white men in retail are just more likely to have the qualifications needed to work the more desirable jobs and get more raises. Another study of New York City employment offers a rejoinder to that notion. Sociologists Devah Pager and Bruce Western conducted an audit study, in which they had matched teams of young men with similar attributes and (fictitious; created for the study) resumes, but of different races, apply for entry-level jobs. In some cases, a white tester was given a resume that indicated he was a recently released felon, while his black and Latino counterparts did not do so. Pager and Western found that, in the teams in which no one indicated a criminal record, the white man had a 23 percent chance of getting a positive response, the Latino man had a 19 percent chance, and the black man had just a 13 percent chance of a positive response. In the teams in which the white member was supposedly a felon, those white members were about as likely as the black and Latino non-felons to get a positive response.

That part of Pager and Western's study speaks to how likely people of different races are to be offered work at all. But they also found significant racial channeling, in which black and Latino applicants for jobs involving contact with customers were instead offered back-of-house jobs—applying for a job as a salesperson or waiter, they were offered a job as a stocker or a dishwasher. White applicants, on the other hand, were sometimes channeled upward, asked to apply for a waiter job rather than the dishwasher one they'd asked to apply for. The only white testers who were channeled downward were those who claimed to be felons, while black testers were channeled down in 10 cases and Latinos were in four cases.

These were, remember, applicants who had been chosen to be similar to each other—race aside—down to their very height, then trained to behave similarly while inquiring about jobs, then given matching resumes (except in the cases of the white testers who were given prison records). The disparate results they experienced in their "job searching" demonstrates the role that employers play in creating racial disparities in pay such as the Luce and Fujita "Discounted Pay" study finds.

Pay isn't the only racial disparity the workers Luce and Fujita surveyed experience. Scheduling is a major issue for these workers (as anyone who has read Lightbulb's diaries here at Daily Kos will be well aware). More than half of the workers Luce and Fujita surveyed were classified as part-time employees, though 30 percent of the "part-time" workers reported sometimes working more than 40 hours in a week. Many reported various forms of schedule-related wage theft, such as not being paid overtime when they should have been, or being called in for a shift, then sent home quickly and not paid for a four hour shift as New York law requires. But even without wage theft, scheduling is problematic for workers:

Only 17 percent of workers surveyed have a set schedule. Thirty percent know their schedules more than a week ahead of time, and the rest - over half - only know their schedules within a week, with about a fifth getting their schedule within three days notice.

Try making child care arrangements when you don't know your work schedule ahead of time. Try budgeting for food and to pay your bills when you don't know how many hours you'll be working in any given week.

Like wages, scheduling problems fall differently on different racial groups:

retail race flexibility

One of the great brutalities of the retail industry today is that workers are, on the one hand, not given the hours they need to make a living, but are, on the other hand, expected to be always available to come in to work with little notice. For poverty wages, companies demand absolute control over their workers' schedules—and, this study finds, the burden falls most heavily on Latino workers and least on white workers. Luce and Fujita identify how "hours are the new bonus," given as rewards or taken away as punishment. Rather than offering raises, managers just give a favored worker more hours.

Though this study focuses on New York City, the struggles these workers face are common throughout the nation. Many of the retail industry's abuses would require massive and complex societal change. Racial discrimination, for instance, is hardly confined to retail, and while the worst instances of discrimination may be subject to some kind of legal remedy, most cases are much more subtle. Pager and Western, for instance, found cases in which their black and Latino testers were told a position had been filled but they'd be called back if the new hire didn't work out. That doesn't sound like discrimination, until you know that their white teammate was hired on the spot. And most job applicants don't go around in matched teams to know when that's happening.

But Luce and Fujita's study does point to some relatively simple ways retail work could be improved. First, we could enforce the laws we already have, so that if you work overtime, you get paid for it and so that employers can't call a worker in then send her home after 15 minutes and pay her only for that 15 minutes if the state law requires she be paid for a four hour shift. (Obviously managers would be a lot less likely to call people in for just 15 minutes if they actually had to pay for four hours.) Protecting and enforcing the existing legal right to organize, too, would help, since union contracts often deal not only with wages and benefits but with scheduling, and can help reduce racial and gender discrimination by standardizing wages, benefits, and schedules.

Luce and Fujita also point to laws that cities and states can pass to improve things for workers. Congress may not be passing living wage or paid sick leave laws anytime soon, but some cities and, in the case of Connecticut and sick leave, even states have done so. Given the truly wretched state of affairs their study reveals, this is an important fight to wage at any level of government we have even a small hope of changing.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 09:33 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos, Retail And Workplace Pragmatists - General, and Retail and Workplace Pragmatists - Members and Editors.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I mean to disclaim: (17+ / 0-)

    Stephanie Luce is a former colleague of my father's and family friend and Devah Pager and Bruce Westerns were professors in my department when I was in grad school. I don't think any of this influenced my coverage here, but there you go.

  •  The part I'd ignore is about education (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    r2did2, dinotrac, ban nock

    Retail work, work on general, is what it is in terms of the education it calls for.  If NYC has a more educated retail workforce than elsewhere, that's a distortion caused by people really wanting to live in NYC and it shouldn't be the burden of employers to pay a wage premium because of it.  In general, I never blame employers for the wages they pay, or the benefits they don't, within the law.  It's the job of government to make sure the perfectly normal race to the bottom between employers is a sufficiently high bottom.

    But nobody's buying flowers from the flower lady.

    by Rich in PA on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 09:47:19 AM PST

  •  Employment #'s by race is horrible in America (14+ / 0-)

    This was an excellent presentation because it shows so vividly what a huge divide there is just in one employment sector and in one state.  If we look at just about every employment figure on just about every employment sector and just about in every state, we'll see similar figures as Laura has presented here for retail in NY.  

    We can say we're a "fair" country and that we have improved our racial inequities and so forth, but, at least in employment in America, there is too much evidence that this is not true and that minorities just aren't fairing out as well as whites.  And, that is in everything from employment to income to wealth accumulation.  

    I'm not so sure I know exactly what to do about it and stay within our current economic system.  I do know that it's a disgrace, of that I'm sure.

    - If you don't like gay marriage, blame straight people. They're the ones who keep having gay babies.

    by r2did2 on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 09:57:16 AM PST

    •  Before we feel too horrible -- about America, that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      is, not about the inequities ---

      we are hardly alone in that regard.
      Let's not forget, for example, the riots by young people of Muslim and African descent that raged in Paris in 2005.

      It's by no means clear that the US is worse than other Western countries -- or even as bad.

      LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

      by dinotrac on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 11:03:11 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  This has a lot to do with the extent to which (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dinotrac, tofumagoo, eyesoars, splashy

        other Western countries have adopted the vulture capitalism rules of the US. Even in the 1950's and 1960's, the US economy was more brutal and in the process of closing off opportunity than other Western countries.

        Now that Social Darwinism has become the reigning philosophy globally, I would expect more unrest as workers in other countries begin to realize how oppression is now being justified in the guise of economic "competition".

    •  Sent to Top Comments. n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JanetT in MD

      "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others." --Groucho Marx

      by Dragon5616 on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 02:08:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Same with gender inequities (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      r2did2, koNko, splashy

      as the diarist points out. Women are less likely to get raises and promotions, no big surprise.  Some things never change.

      "I'll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one."

      by Betty Pinson on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 02:37:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  in the 21st Century, why are we not surprised (7+ / 0-)

    that humans are so easily willing to exploit others on a daily basis.

    discrimination, low wages and schedule abuses

    dangerous voter for a "dangerous president",Präsidentenelf-maßschach; Warning-Some Snark Above"Nous sommes un groupuscule" (-9.50; -7.03) "Sciant terra viam monstrare."

    by annieli on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 09:57:21 AM PST

  •  Without trying to step on the land mine that (4+ / 0-)

    is reverse discrimination I submit that when I was young and broke as all get out I would apply for just about anything.  As a white female I found that no one would hire me to be a bus boy or a dishwasher.  I was even told once that they weren't going to consider me because, "You will just leave right away because something better is going to show up."

    This was in the middle of the unemployment rise caused by St. Raygun where I was asked to pay an agency $125 bucks (I didn't have) in order to land a $3.35 per hour part-time job working cashier at a video rental store.  When I worked out how many weeks that I would have to work just to break even (after taxes), I gave it a pass.

    I like to think that here in urban California, we are fairer in our employee selection, but I have seen some pretty nasty prejudice rear its ugly head at the most unlikely times, so I can't say that it isn't a factor.

    #Occupy Wallstreet - Politicians will not support the movement until it is too big to fail.

    by Sychotic1 on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 10:03:02 AM PST

  •  this can't be right (4+ / 0-)

    In that NYT story about Apple yesterday, it cited that in China people would work 12 hour shifts with no notice to handle order surges, and that this simply could not happen here.  Your story claims that people in lowwage jobs here often do not find out their schedule until a week in advance, and the implication is that they still show up for work.  That contradicts Apple's assertions.  I'm confused.

    Why is it that we put all the manufacturing jobs overseas, if we have people willing to work those jobs?  (Rhetorical question).  

    Democrats *do* have a plan for Social Security - it's called Social Security. -- Ed Schultz

    by FredFred on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 10:04:42 AM PST

  •  Yes, but guys, you're forgetting... (4+ / 0-)

    How much of a sweeter deal this is than those Foxconn Apple workers in China are getting!  Who wouldn't take $10 an hour and 30-hour workweeks over $0.70 per hour and six 12-hour shifts a week?

    Surely we Americans just complain too much...


    It's a fucking travesty.

    I believe in the long-term arc of hope.

    by therehastobeaway on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 10:14:46 AM PST

  •  Thanks for pointing out what's going on, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annieli, tardis10, raincrow

    especially regarding vacation and sick days. They are used as a lure, but try actually using them even singly, let alone many days in a row when there's no one to cover your hours. A bait-and-switch quickly makes a happy work outlook impossible.
    And employer-provided health insurance is a very tempting shiny object; many find themselves virtually mentally enslaved in order to keep the benefit. Feeling trapped like that causes despair and cynicism. Stress. Tension. Pain.
    Health insurance ends up enabling you to treat job-caused illnesses. It's nuts! Medicare for All.

    “I’ve got an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. And I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people that we were elected to serve.” PBO

    by OleHippieChick on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 10:24:15 AM PST

  •  Better whistleblower protections needed (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lightbulb, Amber6541, raincrow

    Currently, people who report abuses are subject to whistleblower reprisal. The hire rate for whistleblowers, by the way, is close to zero.  And, few whistleblowers can sue because they can't afford the legal costs.  Even if the attorney takes their case, pro bono or on contingency, they're still screwed because they need income to carry them for the years that employment cases crawl through the legal system.

    But, inevitably, the only way to stop any abuses is to protect whistleblowers, as insiders are the best way we have to identify abuses.

  •  This is nothing new (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I have a greek friend, 3rd generation (IIRC) whom may as well be latino to the folks at walmart. Was jerked around so much x_x

  •  Welcome to my world. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dragon5616, raincrow, DSPS owl

    And they wonder why we #Occupy.

  •  And, Lightbulb... let's get working (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dragon5616, Betty Pinson

    on that project. Thanks!

  •  the reason retail has so many with partial college (5+ / 0-)

    or even bachelors is because those are good jobs.

    They look for well spoken people that can be clean and wear decent clothes. For those with less advantages there is a different job market. The pay is about the same but the work is often dirty, dangerous, very physical, demeaning, you get the idea.

    They are always looking for painters, the fumes are horrendous. Likewise cleaning (cleaning toilets as well as floors).

    When was the last time a minimum wage law came before congress? One with real increases? Like to bring us back to 1978 levels? No one cares about the poor, we are faceless and anonymous. We don't eat cool foods, or drink cool coffee, or wear cool clothes. We shop at the wrong stores, our kids don't do sports cause we aren't soccer moms. There are more of us all the time.

    "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 11:44:30 AM PST

    •  Indeed. (0+ / 0-)

      I read an interesting article about the effect of the anti-imigration laws in (sorry I forgot but think it was Alabama?). Within weeks there were not enough workers to fill jobs in food plants, construction (unskilled) , farming and landscaping and the bosses were screaming.

      Like anywhere, including China, there jobs are dirty, hard and often dangerous.

      Who were they recruiting? Urban poor.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Mon Jan 23, 2012 at 04:35:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for writing this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tofumagoo, koNko

    And thanks for including a link to the study. It's about time the plight of retail workers is given attention.

    As for the "hours are the new bonus", I used to work at a place (retail) where we had to sell these 'plans' on technology items, such computers, printers, fax machines, hard drives. If it was a technology item, there was a plan to be sold on it. And everyone had to do it. If you worked on the floor, you had to sell them. If you were on the cash register, you had to sell them. If you came into contact with a customer who was about to buy a piece of tech item, you had talk to them about the plan.

    By the way, these plans are supposed to work like insurence, in case something happens to the technology item that you bought. However, upon further investigating, I've discovered they're actually quite useless and the only reason we are pushed to sell is to make up for the loss. You see, the things they sold were always marked down. Everyweek there is a "sale".

    Anyway, the amount of hours that we were given each week depended on how many plans we sold. If we didn't meet the quota, we weren't fired. Nope. Instead our hours were cut down to one shift for the entire week. An these shifts were about four or five hours. And that was all you would get for the entire week.

  •  But what about Staples? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    raincrow, koNko

    I laugh when I hear the latest Republican mantra that Staples has created good, middle class jobs.

    I look at the stockers and the cashiers and the sales help at Staples, and I'm guessing they ain't making a so-called "middle class" wage.

    Retail work has traditionally been the way married women and the daughters of the working class supplemented income.

    The faces may have changed, but not the wages.

    2012: George Bailey capitalism v. Henry Potter capitalism. Do Republicans really want that argument?

    by NCJan on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 01:12:51 PM PST

  •  Got a job, but no hours... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tofumagoo, koNko

    My wife worked for a large national retailer in 2010. She was a ‘floater’, a part time worker who filled in for the more permanent workers when needed. Those workers would access the job schedule early on Friday morning to get their hours for the next week. There were about 20 floaters at this establishment located in a mall and the community was around 100,000. If one had a fast computer with fast internet, they might be able to grab 4 or 5 shifts out of the 10 or so available for the next week. Most of the other 20 floaters would have a job, but no hours and no income that week. I often joked that she had a job but no hours, and she was not eligible for unemployment for those weeks with no income either.
    Now she is working at a small restaurant with 20 tables. Usually only two waitresses can handle the load during the busy times. There is one full time waitress and 8 part time workers. Most of the part time waitresses only get 3 to 6 hours of work a week. It’s almost funny; she works the lunch shift and then gets sent home for a couple hours only to have to come back for the dinner shift.
    In both of these cases the workers are considered employed so they don’t show up on the unemployment numbers, but they have no income or real job to speak of. Trying to juggle two or three part time jobs like this is not easy if you are expecting to get anywhere near 40 hours’ work each week.
    My wife is a Chinese immigrant (2007) and just completed her AAS in accounting last year. She has not even been called for an interview for any accounting jobs yet.

    [the human race is divided into two sharply differentiated and mutually antagonistic classes, almost two genera] -- Mencken

    by redneonexpress on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 01:46:30 PM PST

    •  This is where the U6 (0+ / 0-)

      measure that includes involuntary part-time employment is so important to focus on.

      And so ridiculous that businesses have so many more part-time workers than the businesses need, working fewer hours than the workers need even if they do only want part-time work.

  •  Did the study look at whether unionized (0+ / 0-)

    employees are better or more fairly treated?

    Many supermarkets are unionized, and Macy's has three big department stores in the city that are unionized (Manhattan, Bronx, and Queens).

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