Crappy Holidays! Truly a ‘Black Friday’ for retail workers

download (2)Every holiday season, retailers lure throngs of shoppers with extended hours, blowout sales, and special deals.  The frantic sales environment is stressful for some shoppers, but it’s doubly so for most store employees.  Oklahomans working retail aren’t likely to see their pay increase in proportion to their seasonal workload.  Regardless of how hard or how much they work, inadequate pay and benefits keep too many workers on precarious financial footing.


Nearly 50,000 Oklahomans work year-round to unlock your dressing rooms, bag your groceries, and count out your change.  The workforce is growing rapidly, with 18,000 new jobs expected in the state by 2020.  These are not quality jobs.  Retail in Oklahoma is very low-wage work.  A full-time retail sales worker earns $14,190 less throughout the year than the average Oklahoma worker (see the chart to the left).

Workers struggle to meet basic needs on the pay and benefits earned at most retail jobs.  It’s a myth that these jobs are mostly worked by teenagers or by people working part-time for extra spending money.  The majority of retail employees (72 percent) are earning at least half of their family’s total income – and 18 percent of those are their family’s sole earner.  The chart below compares full-time and salaried retail employee benefits in Oklahoma with the benefits of all full-time and salaried employees in the state:


A majority of Oklahomans who work full-time in retail sales are not offered paid sick days or overtime pay.  That’s an untenable situation for parents; who are all but guaranteed to get sick on occasion and require expensive child care if they have to stay home from school.  Nearly half (44 percent) of workers aren’t offered a retirement plan, a critical component of long-term financial security for all families.

One in five retail employees aren’t offered a health plan at all and an even larger share are offered a health plan, but can’t afford the premiums because their wages are too low.  This is precisely the population that health reform’s Medicaid expansion will cover in many other states. But Oklahoma’s leaders are still refusing to accept federal money to extend coverage.  It seems low wage retail employees in Oklahoma are out of luck:  they aren’t eligible for Medicaid, they aren’t offered insurance by their employers, and they’re not paid enough to afford to buy their own coverage.

When you head out to the stores to get gifts and goodies for your loved ones this season, remember that the employees you encounter (and tens of thousands of others just like them) earn a poverty wage with scant benefits and they work long and difficult hours during a time when most people have time off to spend with their families.  Brighten their day with a kind word and a smile and share this post so others do the same.


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