US Retail Workers Need a New Bill of Rights

December 10, 2014 | | Al Jazeera America |

The holiday shopping season is the best time of the year for big retail chains across the United States. But not so much for the people who stock the shelves and ring up the Christmas sales.

As holiday gift-seeking shoppers return, retail businesses are hiring. But that does not necessarily mean employees are finding good jobs. In fact, if you find work in the slow-growing U.S. economy, it’s increasingly likely to be a low-wage job at one of our country’s retail giants.

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First, there’s the pay. The federal minimum wage has stagnated at $7.25 an hour, and as a recent reportfrom Demos notes, “the typical retail sales person earns just $21,000 per year.” Many people work two to three jobs to make ends meet. Even with multiple jobs, many are forced to rely on food stamps and other forms of public assistance, shifting the burden of ultralow wages to American taxpayers. And it is not just teenagers looking for some pocket change. The national median age for U.S. retail workers is 38 while fewer than 25 percent of them were 16 to 24 years old, according to a study by the Aspen Institute. In 2012 more than a third of retail employees in New York City’s teeming retail sector had college degrees.