The Retail Industry Fosters Racial Inequality, According To A Demos, NAACP Report

June 2, 2015  |  

The NAACP and Demos, a public policy organization, have partnered to produce a new paper, “The Retail Race Divide: How the Retail Industry is Perpetuating Racial Inequality in the 21st Century” that finds a disproportionate number of Black and Latino workers in the retail industry live below the poverty line.

“Like the overall retail workforce, the vast majority of Black retail workers are adults,” says the report in its Key Findings section. “More than half have some education after high school, and about one-third are working parents. Yet Black and Latino retail workers are more likely to be working poor, with 17 percent of Black and 13 percent of Latino retail workers living below the poverty line, compared to 9 percent of the retail workforce overall.”

There are 1.9 million Black workers employed in the retail industry, according to the paper. There are 10 million White, non-Hispanic workers and 2.3 million Hispanic workers.

The report goes on to say that Blacks and Latinos are largely shut out of supervisory roles in the industry, relegated to lower paying positions; are the victims of wage inequality; and are forced into part-time jobs even when they’re seeking full-time work.

“[T]he years of slow recovery that followed the Great Recession of 2007-2009 revealed a problematic trend: service industry employment became more central to the well-being of American workers, but the low wages and uncertain schedules that characterize that employment undermined household financial security and, by extension, growth and stability for the economy overall,” the report notes.

The last employment report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May showed that the unemployment rate had fallen to 5.4 percent, the lowest point since May 2008. But the unemployment rate for Blacks was nearly twice that, 9.6 percent. Many have noted in the months leading up to that last report that a good proportion of the jobs created during the economic recovery have been in areas like retail, where wages are low. Keeping a family fed, dressed and with a roof over their head is impossible on the minimum wage usually paid in these positions. And though there have been raises in the minimum wage in places across the country, they’ve been slow in coming, haven’t reached a level to pay the average cost of living and have not touched everywhere in the US.

The Demos/NAACP report calls for a $15 wage and steps to close the opportunity gap in retail.

“Although there is a persistent conception of retail as a stepping stone to better employment, the truth is that for many workers these jobs are central to sustaining homes and families,” the report says. “Black workers are most likely to be the sole earner in the household—a finding that should not come as a surprise in the context of routinely high Black unemployment across sectors, making it more difficult for other family members to find jobs.”

For more from this report, click here.

We were in touch with the National Retail Federation for their thoughts on this report and got the following response via email from their SVP Bill Thorne:

“The study is less of an academic, independent review of an important topic and more of just another effort by supporters of organized labor to rehash a one sided point of view under the guise of ‘research.’ It does not appear that the authors bothered to talk with retailers to ensure accuracy in their conclusions, but instead used questionable citations that merely justified what they want readers to believe.

“Retail is color blind, providing jobs and opportunity for millions of Americans regardless of race, age, background or experience. Retailers work every single day to ensure that their workforce can achieve personal and professional gain to the benefit of the employee, their families and the communities where they live and work. The primary inequality identified in this ‘study’ is between real research and an agenda-driven narrative.”

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