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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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Comment Preferences

  •  The "living wage" concept seems like a powerful (7+ / 0-)

    way to frame this issue. And you mention it twice, but I haven't heard it used a lot lately and you didn't use the phrase in you tags so I wonder if it has fallen out of favor for some reason I missed?

    Your well-written post comes at just a moment in my own thinking when this issue is "jelling" in my mind, and seeming to be a lot more important than I even realized previously.

    Something is out of kilter when the average wage can not sustain the average lifestyle. Where is someone who earns a minimum wage supposed to live? Where are the apartments for $300 a month, a person working at the minimum wage could afford to live in by themselves?

    Humor Alert! No statement from this UID is intended to be true, including this one. Comments and Posts intended for recreational purposes only. Unauthorized interpretations may lead to unexpected results. This waiver void where prohibited.

    by HoundDog on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 12:37:14 PM PDT

    •  I would geuss that the push for $15 has replaced (2+ / 0-)

      the living wage. I like the specificity of $15, but since it will likely be phased in anywhere is it passed, it may/may not constitute a living wage depending on where you live.  

      New Republic: So are the left-wing blogs as bad as the Tea Party ones in this case? -------------------------Chuck Schumer: Left-wing blogs are the mirror image. They just have less credibility and less clout.

      by AlexDrew on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 01:21:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Morgan Spurlock on Inequality (4+ / 0-)

    I saw his piece on income inequality, in which he said that if the minimum wage was raised to $10.10, the average Walmart shopper's bill would go up by $12 a year. So, I say, let's see if we can get it raised to $20. Wages must be an incredibly small part of Walmart's operating expenses, and I imagine the same is probably true of a lot of the retail industry.

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 12:38:14 PM PDT

    •  "I say, let's see if we can get it raised to $20" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Democrats barely support $10.10. Spend a little more time off of DKos please.

      New Republic: So are the left-wing blogs as bad as the Tea Party ones in this case? -------------------------Chuck Schumer: Left-wing blogs are the mirror image. They just have less credibility and less clout.

      by AlexDrew on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 01:23:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I barely spend any time on DKos... (3+ / 0-)

        although much more in recent weeks than during my recent many months of hiatus.

        Mostly I spend time in the real world, where people don't want to hear any of this living wage stuff, even if they themselves have a hard time making ends meet. It's almost like I used to live in an alternate universe before waking up in some conservative nightmare in recent decades.

        Perhaps I should have just said I think it should be $20 instead of "let's see if we can get...". I'll continue to spend whatever time I want to here, though.

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 02:54:19 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  In my experience managing restaurants and retai... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      In my experience managing restaurants and retail stores the amount spent daily on workers wages is incredibly low. Like around 10% or less of the daily sales figure. Lower for retail. If business slows down employees are always sent home early. Its another way employers take advantage of employees by making their schedules unpredictable and unreliable.makes it difficult to hold down a badly needed second job.

      ..didnt mean to rant

    •  I don't know anything about this source (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      from the University of North Carolina, but a very interesting paper on WalMart's labor costs and how much flexibility they have to increase wages.

      "let's talk about that" uid 92953

      by VClib on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 09:47:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It doesn't tell me (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        anything  to help gauge the verity of Spurlock's claim that raising those below $10.10 to that figure per hour would cost the average Walmart customer $12 a year. A dollar a month would hurt customers? Come on.

        How did we get to the point where people got used to thinking of the current minimum wage as acceptable or at least unimprovable? This used to be a prosperous country but wages at the lower levels have stagnated in real terms, and at the lowest level if what I read is correct they have declined by about half, at least if it is true that doubling the minimum wage would get it back only to its real value the last time it was changed.

        Why do I have to consider the plight of poor Walmart, especially here in the orange pages?

        Moderation in most things.

        by billmosby on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 11:40:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's the first article that I have read that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          tried to understand the actual profit by store for Walmart and what flexibility they might have to raise wages on a micro economic level, given their low 3% profit margins and limited per store profits. I thought there was some very good actual information in the article.

          "let's talk about that" uid 92953

          by VClib on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 11:53:03 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  i heard someone say this (4+ / 0-)

    about income inequality, that its a "defining challenge of our time."

    i think that means we need to address income inequality faster, as a national issue.

    "....No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth!"

    by Seattle Socialist on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 12:57:08 PM PDT

  •  Automation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Retail jobs can be more readily eliminated by automation, compared to other industries.

    As their pay increases, spending on automation equipment will also increase.

    "states like VT and ID are not 'real america'" -icemilkcoffee

    by Utahrd on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 04:54:17 PM PDT

    •  I disagree (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jbsoul, ti bon ange, keyscritter

      Retail is already overautomated to the point of not giving shoppers the service they needed. I don't see it becoming much more automated without driving much more major traffic to the Internet. Once you eliminate service to the point of making in-person shopping a nightmare —already closed to happening — no one will have a reason to go in your store if they can never find anyone who can help them find what they need. One if the major reasons I go to Target is because I can. I haven't set foot in a WalMart in almost a decade.

      Ed FitzGerald for governor Of Ohio. Women's lives depend on it.

      by anastasia p on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 06:21:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  "Finding what you need" (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Why do you need to do that when Amazon Prime will get you whatever you need free shipping in two days?

        (This isn't snark, I'm serious. How can retail jobs at high wages compete with touching a few buttons on your smartphone?)

        (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
        Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

        by Sparhawk on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 06:34:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  What sub-living wages do... (3+ / 0-) allow giant corporations to crowd out local business that couldhire people at living wages.

    it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses

    by Addison on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 06:03:13 PM PDT

  •  Democrats should campaign on minimum wage (4+ / 0-)

    It's a no brainer.

    1) It's good for the economy

    2) It reduces inequality

    3) It may get many who do not vote to vote.

    Democrats Turn to Minimum Wage as 2014 Strategy

    “It puts Republicans on the wrong side of an important value issue when it comes to fairness,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the president’s senior adviser. “You can make a very strong case that this will be a helpful issue for Democrats in 2014. But the goal here is to actually get it done. That’s why the president put it on the agenda.”

    Top Republicans assert that a wage increase would dampen the economic recovery and indicated after Mr. Obama mentioned the issue in his State of the Union speech this year that they had no intention of bringing a minimum-wage increase to a vote in the House, which they control.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action.

    by Shockwave on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 06:10:56 PM PDT

  •  But but but - freedom! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jbsoul, wintergreen8694

    In the early 20th Century, right wing SCOTUS majorities declared minimum wage laws unconstitutional because they deprived working men and working women the freedom to negotiate their wages without big guvment/big brother telling them how much they should be earning.  See my diary from January here.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    "Corporations exist not for themselves, but for the people." Ida Tarbell 1908.

    by Navy Vet Terp on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 06:11:36 PM PDT

  •  Thank You LC - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    You are always hammering away -
    And, slowly, the wall will come down.

  •  I think the pathway should be made more explicit (0+ / 0-)

    Government sets the conditions under which firms operate.  To me, the diary should emphasize living-wage initiatives at the state and local level, rather than the chimerical idea that firms should be less selfish, or that they should emulate a single outlying firm.

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 06:18:53 PM PDT

  •  if wal-mart, and nearly every other retailer (0+ / 0-)

    in the country, could figure out how, they'd just outsource all their stores to Bangladesh, hire the locals for a few pennies a day, and be done with it. don't worry, they're working on it even as we speak.

  •  Some retail industries (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    have extremely low profit margins already.  I'm thinking supermarkets in particular -- barely over 1% to begin with.  (You can google for cites; it's very easy to find.)  This was as true 25 years ago when I worked as a cashier as it is today, so it's not inherently a "CEOs stealing the cash" sort of thing.  Food prices would have to go up somewhat to pay for such raises.

    This is not to debate your basic point.  I'm in favor of a much higher minimum wage and higher wages overall for that matter.  People with more money to spend would also have more money to purchase necessities.  But I think the argument needs more sophistication than is given here.

  •  GOP has cultivated reliable "suicide voters". (0+ / 0-)

    The main difference between the American variety and the Middle-Eastern variety, is the voters are ignorant of the outcome. Americans are distracted by deeply-held, emotional reactions to the "morally outrageous" acts of "Godless" Democrats.  Their actions have the effect of strengthening their oppressors. The Americans GOP voters in Red States are unsophisticated, whether educated or not. They can't even vote themselves a pay raise, identifying instead with the CEO's and the brothers and sisters of the Walton family. Easy pickins and our crosses to bear.

  •  Living wage (0+ / 0-)

    After working 40+ years, finishing high school and one year of community college,  the highest wage I was able to earn at retirement time was $13 an hour. Now in retirement, I still live in poverty.

  •  Considering other things like... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a gilas girl

    Ford and GM who swore up and down that the automobile industry would collapse if they were to be forced to install seat belts... or catalytic converters.  RM brought that up on her show on 6/2.  It's a good argument. It's happened over and over in lots of businesses.  "We just can't do that!- we'll have to close our doors for ever!" (bang fists on desk)

    Paying people better wages is the same thing.

    And while I agree that every state needs to address this in their own way, the fact remains that there is a ratio, an equation- MATH- which can map out how much it costs to live in a place, and how much you need to earn to be comfortable enough not to panic a day or two before pay day.  Age (I'm talking about youth and inexperience) and confirmed ability to perform a job need to be considered.  Whether you're still living with parents and claimed as a dependent.  Lots of things need to be considered and it's very complicated.  But do-able.

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