The Who’s Better Off Game:Retail Sales Workers

Critics have suggested that America is becoming a Wal-Mart economy — a nation of part-time employees earning meager wages and getting few benefits — and nowhere is that contention better supported than in Wal-Mart’s own sector, retail. While the budget-priced giant is growing, there are fewer Americans working in retail every year, and those who still have jobs are earning less and less…

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Wal-Mart remains a retail powerhouse, and the health of the general retail industry largely reflects the health of the Arkansas-based discount giant. That’s bad news for retail employees.

As Wal-Mart has grown, retail jobs and wages have declined. In 2000, there were more than 991,000 retail salespeople working in the U.S. By mid 2003, that number had dropped to just over 961,000 — a dip of more than 3 percent. And wages remain low — among the lowest of any group in the nation. Today, the average annual salary for retail salespeople remains below $20,000, and real income has grown by only about 1.5 percent since Bush took office.

Cashiers are doing slightly better — no surprise, as the retail growth has been driven by companies like Wal-Mart that employ more cashiers than actual salespeople. Still, wages for cashiers remain crushingly low — less than $17,000 a year nationwide — and real income growth has hovered below 1 percent.

In some states, like Ohio and Michigan, retail workers are doing particularly poorly. In Ohio, nearly 10 percent of all salespeople jobs were eliminated between 2000 and 2003, while 3.5 percent of cashier jobs in Michigan were lost.

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