The Retail Sector—New York’s Biggest Low-wage Employer Needs to Provide Higher Wages

March 22, 2016. Among all sectors, retail trade has the most low-wage workers in New York State. Over a half million (555,200) retail workers will benefit from an increase in the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour. These workers make up nearly a fifth (18 percent) of the 3.2 million workers receiving a wage boost, although retail jobs represent one in nine of all New York jobs.

With the phased-in $15 minimum wage floor, 61 percent of all women retail workers would receive higher wages, as would 55 percent of all men retail workers. Retail workers are overwhelmingly adults (91 percent), only 9 percent are teenagers.

Fifty-three percent of the retail workers who would benefit are white, non-Hispanic, and 47 percent are persons of color. Of all African-American retail workers, 62 percent would receive a wage increase, as would 65 percent of all Latino retail workers.

More than one-quarter (27 percent) of all retail workers are parents struggling to raise families on very low wages. Over half of all retail workers (53 percent) who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage receive some form of public assistance because their retail wages are so low.

Median hourly pay for New York’s retail workers has fallen by 7-9 percent since 2002, adjusted for inflation, this is far greater than the 1 percent decline in the overall median wage.

The median hourly wage statewide in May 2014 (latest occupational data available) for retail salespersons (the largest occupational group within retail) was $10.32, and wage levels are fairly uniform in both upstate and downstate regions.

The hourly earnings needed to support a basic family budget in 2021 across New York well exceeds the proposed $15 an hour minimum wage floor.

Large chain employers that average 970 employees per firm account for 60 percent of all retail employment in New York, and these large employers pay some of the lowest wages, nearly a quarter less than retail companies with between 5 and 500 workers.

These large retail chains are prominent all across the state and their low-wage practices are a significant factor in local labor markets in every region and metro area.

The largest retail chains are extremely profitable and reward their CEOs with compensation more than 900 times as great as the pay of the average retail worker in New York.

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