The holidays can be a good time for retail stores, as people flock to malls and websites to buy iPads, Christmas sweaters, and dog antlers. But it's not such a good time for female retail workers, who make significantly less than their male counterparts — and who are less likely to get promotions or health insurance.
The Retail Action Project and CUNY conducted a study of New York City retailers — according to a press release, they found that female employees' median hourly wage was $9.00/hr, while their male coworkers' was $10.13/hr. That means female retail employees in the city earn 89% of what their male counterparts make. This is a slightly smaller wage gap than the one between female and male workers as a whole — women made 77% of what men made in 2008. But since female workers dominate in retail, it's surprising to find the gap still so high. Women also lag in terms of benefits. Just 28% of women in the study had health insurance through their jobs, compared to 31% of men; 43% of women and 51% of men had paid time off. And when it came to career advancement, 55% of men had received a raise in their current job while 36% had received a promotion; for women, those numbers were 44% and 28%, respectively. Study author and CUNY professor Stephanie Luce emphasizes the importance of bringing those numbers up:
It continues to shock me that even in a female dominated industry, women are earning less than men. Most of the people working in retail are earning poverty wages, so clearly something needs to be done to raise wages for all workers but especially for those most impacted — Black and Latina women.
A Change.org petition addressed to the president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association also points out that "taxpayers are subsidizing retail giants whose low-wage employees qualify for public benefits" — when retail giants don't pay their workers a living wage, the consequences affect everyone. The petition also notes that women will bear the brunt of the holiday rush, but that they won't reap the rewards:
Retail businesses such as Old Navy, Target, Toys R Us, and Sears plan to capitalize on the holidays even further by instituting around-the-clock sale hours as Christmas approaches. Since women are the majority of the retail workforce across the country, it is women who will be working extra, for less pay than their male counterparts.
This is a time of year when many of us give lots of money to retail businesses. It's also a time to ask retailers why they're not passing more of that money on to the female employees who keep them going.