In many stores around the country, the workers stocking the shelves and ringing up the gifts are at the very heart of this season’s retail lament —many Americans are so financially strapped that projections for holiday sales have grown bleaker by the week.
And more so than in years past, the focus is on retail workers as more stores open on Thanksgiving Day, requiring many more to work on the holiday. Even if they have the option of staying home, those still stuck at the bottom economic rung long after the recession’s end have little choice but to take on extra shifts.
Food stamps have been cut for some, and many were stung by the payroll tax increase. Even their own companies have set up food drives to aid low-paid employees at individual stores or created help lines advising them how to stretch their food dollars and apply for public assistance.
Chardé Nabors, a mother of two who works as a $9-an-hour cashier at Sears in the Chicago Loop, feels left behind by the holiday festivities, partly because she was scheduled to work from 7:30 p.m. Thanksgiving to 6 a.m. Friday. “I’m here watching shoppers buy all these items, and I’m working to help these people, and I can’t even buy my children the same products,” said Ms. Nabors, whose 3-year-old son wants a Spider-Man doll she cannot afford.
For retail workers nationwide, who earn a median pay of about $9.60 an hour, or less than $20,000 a year, holiday shopping sprees are most often enjoyed by customers on the opposite side of the counter.
On Black Friday, workers at Walmart and their union allies plan to stage protests at some 1,500 Walmart stores to demand higher pay. Moreover, many lawmakers, seeing the squeeze on incomes nationwide, are pushing an idea that they say could give a much-needed boost to retailers’ languishing sales: increasing the minimum wage.