If the clerks, cashiers, and order-pickers in the stores where you bought your presents looked stressed, it’s not just because working retail during Christmas week sucks. A study released today by the non-profit Fiscal Policy Institute shows that retail is the industry sector that employs the biggest chunk of the 1.3 million low-wage workers in this city — that is, workers earning less than $13 per hour. Nearly half of these 176,000 low-wage retail workers earn less than $10 an hour, and the majority lack health insurance.
While people tend to stereotype retail workers as teenagers looking for extra cash or Williamsburg hipsters diddling around till their art careers take off, most New York retail workers are over 35 and work full-time. Ninety thousand children in New York City have parents that work in retail, and in many cases that parent is their sole provider.
The Insitute also reports that, as a consequence, retail workers also receive a larger share of public assistance than workers in other categories — so their misery costs you money, too — and suggests that when retailers look for “tax subsidies and subsidized loans” (hint, hint, Wal-Mart!), the city should hold out for a better deal for workers. “Even in an economic downturn,” the report says, “improving the wages and working conditions of retail workers is not an impractical abstraction.”