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11/13/2017 | Restoring a Fair Workweek

Job Quality and Economic Opportunity in Retail: Key Findings from a National Survey of the Retail Workforce

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    The growth of the service economy in the United States has profound implications for job quality and opportunity for working people today. With a workforce of nearly 16 million, the retail industry is now the largest employer of low-wage workers in the country. In fact, retail now accounts for 10 percent of private sector employment. The retail industry is undergoing a period of deep disruption and rapid transformation which presents several new challenges. Emerging technologies, online retailing, and increasing corporate concentration are changing the retail landscape and impacting its workforce. Indeed, as a huge economic engine, retail is currently in flux: the rise of e-commerce is adding jobs in warehousing and logistics at an accelerated rate, while some brick-and-mortar stores shed jobs. Against this backdrop, many retailers are putting renewed value on quality customer service, personalized shopping, and specialized store based services. In an effort to identify strategies to support the retail workforce in attaining economic stability and preparing for the work of the future, the Fair Workweek Initiative conducted a national survey of the retail workforce to better understand how people working in retail navigate their careers and adapt to the demands of market forces. In our survey of over 1,000 people working in retail, we found that, despite statewide minimum wage gains and some voluntary reforms by employers, many people struggle to achieve economic stability due to significant income volatility and wage stagnation. Pathways to higher paying managerial roles remain elusive for millions in the retail workforce. As Walmart - both the largest employer in America and largest low-wage employer - invests over $100 million in workforce development programs, our findings suggest that the practices affecting a low-wage, contingent workforce also create impediments to advancement and “climbing the career ladder."