New Report Finds Female Retail Workers Earn $4 an Hour Less Than Male Counterparts

Female retail workers in the US earn an average of $4 an hour less than their male counterparts, a pay gap that costs those women an estimated $40.8bn in lost wages annually, according to a new report released on Monday.

Amy Traub, senior policy analyst at Demos and the author of the report, said several factors were hitting women’s wages in the retail industry, including the number of women working – often involuntarily – in part-time positions, the types of goods sold and “a lot of flat out discrimination”.

“We are hearing a lot about women’s economic advancement recently, from the excitement about the potential of a female president of the United States to exhortations to women to ‘lean in’ in professional jobs,” Traub said.

“But when we look at the most common [female] occupation today, it’s not a high-flying executive. It’s a retail sales person.”

There were some 4.6 million people working in retail sales in the US in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Women make up less than half of all retail workers (48.7%), but they make up 55.4% of retail's low-wage workers.

On average they are paid $10.58 an hour, compared to $14.62 paid to men.

Retailers make up the bulk of the largest employers in the US. Walmart, the largest, employs over 2.2 million while Target, Kroger and Home Depot employ more than a million between them.

In recent years they have become the focus of nationwide campaigns put together by unions, retail workers, church groups and others who have organised strikes and protests for better pay and conditions.

Part of the issue, the report said, is that women cannot find all the work they want. Nearly one in three women working part-time wants to work full-time but is unable to do so because the hours are not available or their employer does not want them to.

This dilemma has been exacerbated by the popularity of “just-in-time” scheduling practices, in which employers use software to call in workers as and when they are needed. Irregular scheduling is especially difficult for women with children.

“Think about what this does to your budget if you don’t know what you are going to earn next week or the week after,” Taub said.

Such uncertainty makes it difficult to plan childcare or elder care, to get a second job or to train for a better position. The same issues affect men but are magnified for those women who take on more childcare responsibility than men.

Partly as a result of their lower wages, some 1.3 million women working in retail live at or near the poverty line. If present trends continue, Demos calculates, another 100,000 women will be added to their ranks by 2022 – along with the 2.5 million family members they support.

“Fortunately, a business model that relies on millions of women in low-paid jobs with unstable schedules is not the only option for the retail industry,” the report said.

In 2012, the median annual wage of all retail workers in the US was $21,410, according to the BLS. Increasing that to $25,000 a year for full-time work, for both men and women, would cost retailers $21.5bn, less than the $26.3 bn in stock repurchases the top 10 US retailers made in 2013.

Passing half of the cost of a wage increase on to customers would cost consumers 15 cents more per shopping trip – or $17.73 per year.


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