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10 Biggest Myths About Retail Workers

Over 1 in 10 US jobs is in the retail trade. Here's what their lives are really like.


Myth 1: Most retail workers are teenagers or young adults who do not really need the money

Reality: The average age of a retail worker is  37 years old (pdf), and more than half of year-round retail workers  contribute a significant portion (pdf) of their family's total income. For example, researchers found that  a third (pdf) of New York City retail workers support at least one dependent.

Myth 2: Retail workers are unskilled

Reality: 28% of retail workers (pdf) have completed some college, and 15% have a bachelor's degree or higher. Employers have deskilled a lot of the work, but  still report in surveys that they want employees with both soft and hard skills, including product knowledge, ability to relate to customers, and increasingly, familiarity with technology for assisting with online sales.

Myth 3: Retail workers may earn a low wage, but most of them are only doing the job temporarily until they move up to higher level jobs or other careers

Reality: While the  retail industry has higher turnover than many industries, most retail workers stay in the industry – which means that the turnover is high for individual employers, particularly those that pay low wages and treat workers poorly. In a  large national survey (pdf), about half of retail respondents said they were not very likely to try to change employers in the next year. Workers do not lack a work ethic or commitment to retail, but are often forced to look for another job that provides more hours or more predictable schedules.

Myth 4: Retail work is meant to be just an entry-level job

Reality: Over  15 million people work in the retail sector, and that number is expected to grow, as retail sales worker occupations make-up the second largest job growth projections in the country, after food preparation occupations. More than 1 out of every 10 jobs in the country is in retail trade, which makes it a major part of our economy. It is unlikely that most retail workers will leave the sector for other work.

Myth 5: Retail jobs are pretty good jobs – at least workers are inside where it is warm, and conditions are safe

Reality: While many retail workers enjoy aspects of their job, such as working with customers, the average job is missing most aspects of a "good job". According  to the Department of Labor, the median wage is $9.53 for retail salesworkers and $9.13 for cashiers, and 15% of all retail workers live in or near poverty. A  survey of New York retail workers (pdf) found that only 29% receive health benefits from their employer. The injury rate in retail (pdf) is higher than the average for all industries, and workers commonly experience injury from contact with objects or equipment, overexertion, falls, sprains and strains. In 2012, 2 62 retail workers were killed on the job.

Myth 6: If retail workers really had problems on the job, they could approach the employer and ask for a raise – or report legal problems to the government

Reality: All workers have the right to report problems to government authorities, and they have the legal right to ask for higher wages – including working with co-workers to demand improvements. But in fact, studies show that employers  frequently penalize workers (pdf) who organize in the workplace, such as firing, surveilling or harassing in other ways. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board issued findings that Walmart had illegally fired and disciplined employees who had participated in protests or strikes. Furthermore, while workers can  file complaints with OSHA or the Department of Labor about unsafe working conditions or discriminatory treatment, processing those complaints can take years as most government regulatory agencies, particularly the Department of Labor, are  grossly understaffed and under-resourced(pdf).

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