Forbes: Data show disturbing gender, racial wage disparities among low-pay retail workers

Forbes, February 4, 2016

by Clare O'Connor

Retail salesperson” has been the most common occupation in the country for years now, with one in ten private sector U.S. workers — that is, over 16 million people — employed in the enormous industry.

That it is also among the worst paid is hardly breaking news. Employees of big-box stores and apparel chains alike have been allies of the union-backed fast food workers’ ‘Fight for $15′ minimum wage push since its launch just over three years ago.

In recent months, some of the sector's biggest and highest-profile employers, including Gap Inc. and Walmart, have raised their minimum pay voluntarily.

Still, over 90% of workers in big-box, department, and discount stores earn less than $15 per hour. Data from a recent report by the Center for Popular Democracy shows that women and people of color in retail have it worst of all, losing out to white men when it comes to both pay and opportunities.

For instance, the left-leaning nonprofit reports that while women make up 60% of first-line supervisors in grocery stores, they hold only 18% of higher store management positions.

In general merchandise stores (think Macy's, Costco and Dollar Tree), people of color make up 50% of cashier and 43% of sales worker roles, but hold only 34% of first-line supervisor jobs.

In the food and beverage sector, which includes grocery, specialty food, and wine stores, 8 out of 10 general manager positions are held by men, even though they make up less than half of the workforce in this particular category.

The Center’s data shows occupational segregation for cashiers, who are paid the least of any roles within the retail industry: 90% earn less than $13.30 an hour, from department stores to gas stations. Women and people of color are disproportionately employed as cashiers. Women comprise four in five cashier jobs in general merchandise stores, for instance.

The report found that the home and garden sub-sector of retail pays the highest wages for salespeople and cashiers than any other category besides auto dealers, yet these stores employ a lower share of people of color than anywhere else in the industry. Non-white people hold less than a quarter of all positions in home and garden stores.

Again, women are represented but not promoted. They comprise a third of the home and garden workforce, but 74% of the cashiers and 12% of the management.

The report also found that white workers are over-represented in the higher-paying retail categories, including automotive stores, furniture and home furnishing stores, and sports and hobby stores.

For the full report, see here.