New Demos/NAACP Report Reveals How Retail Industry Perpetuates Racial Inequality

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Black and Latino Retail Workers Are More Likely to be Underemployed and Underpaid

New York, NY – A new Demos/NAACP report finds that retail employers pay Black and Latino full-time workers just 75 percent of the wages of their white peers, amounting to losses up to $7,500 per year. In The Retail Race Divide: How the Retail Industry is Perpetuating Racial Inequality in the 21st Century, Catherine Ruetschlin, Demos Senior Policy Analyst, and Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, Senior Director of the NAACP Economic Department and Executive Director of the NAACP Financial Freedom Center, analyze retail workers’ occupations, earnings and schedules. They show that Black and Latino workers are overrepresented in the positions with the lowest pay and the least stability, and more likely to be among the working poor than their White colleagues.

“Living wage employment opportunities, benefits like health care and investments into retirement, and workplace practices are the essential bedrock for all Americans to be able to work towards an adequate, dignified standard of living,” said Dedrick Asante-Muhammad. “Yet our labor market norms have consistently excluded people of color from accessing those foundations of opportunity.”

“The striking persistence of racial inequities in employment is present in the retail industry and beyond, but these norms do not have to continue,” said Catherine Ruetschlin. “Moving forward requires real commitment on the part of employers to ending discriminatory practices, expanding opportunities, paying living wages and offering stable, adequate hours for all retail workers.

Other key findings include:

• Black retail workers share the attributes of the overall retail workforce, but face worse outcomes: 17 percent of Black and 13 percent of Latino workers live below the poverty line, compared to 9 percent of the retail workforce overall.

• Black and Latino retail workers are underrepresented in supervisory positions like managers or first-line supervisors. Black workers make up 11 percent of the labor force, but just 6 percent of managers. Conversely, Black and Latino retail sales workers are overrepresented in cashier positions, the lowest-paid position in retail.

• Involuntary part-time workers are a large share of the Black and Latino retail workforce. More than 40 percent of Black and Latino part-time retail workers would like full-time work, compared to 29 percent of White part-time employees.

The report also dispels the myth that retail workers are primarily young people without families. More than 90 percent of Black and Latino retail workers are over 20 years old. Half provide at least 50 percent of their household’s income, and about a quarter are the sole earners in their households. Over half of Black employees and 43 percent of Latino employees have some educational experience beyond high school, including those with a college degree.

Ruetschlin and Asante-Muhammad conclude with solutions for retailers to reduce racial inequities by improving employment conditions for all workers in the industry. Policies that protect the rights of workers and amplify their voices on the job can address some of the worst employment practices. Additionally, raising the federal minimum wage will provide decent living standards for hard-working retail employees and their families while reducing the racial wage divide. As this research demonstrates, retail employers have a critical opportunity to commit to ending racially biased outcomes in the industry and to make retail jobs an opportunity for all workers to thrive.

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