The retail industry employs millions of cashiers, salespeople, stockers, and clerks nationwide. Current estimates predict that it will only continue to add employees over upcoming decades. But the industry has one glaring problem that’s only going to get worse: Female retail workers earn substantially less than their male counterparts.
According to a study conducted by the public policy organization Demos and released Monday, the average female salesperson earns a full four dollars less than a man every hour. Given the wage gap, a woman would have to work 103 days longer than a man to earn the same salary.
The disparity costs women $40.8 billion in lost earnings every year.
The average male retail salesmen now earns about $14.58 per hour, while a woman doing the same job receives only $10.58—an hourly wage that, according to the study’s author Amy Traub, would relegate a family of three to poverty.
Today, the vast majority of retail employees are female; 7.2 million women now work in sales or retail.
Over 1 million of those female retail workers are now teetering on the brink of the poverty line, the study found. If current trends continue, the number of female retail workers in or near poverty could expand by about 100,000 by 2022.
The unpredictable schedule of retail jobs may also account for the large number of women struggling to lift themselves out of poverty.
Traub noted that many retail jobs are seasonal and offer few benefits, such as sick days and paid absences. Those jobs also often have erratic schedules, making it difficult for women to work for the number of hours they need to support themselves or their families.
Traub predicted that the trend will only continue if the retail industry fails to take action. She suggested that retail companies should raise their wage floors to $25,000 per year for full-time employees.
Some private companies have already raised wages.
Traub pointed to several major employers that have made an effort to boost the earnings of women. The study noted that Trader Joe’s Supermarkets and Costco Wholesale Clubs offer generous salaries to retail workers, while maintaining low prices and generating solid profits.
“Large retail[ers] can embrace the opportunity to make a positive change in the economy and the nation by paying a wage and offering hours that enable the women working in the retail industry to support their families, while improving productivity, increasing sales, and generating new economic activity and jobs,” Traub wrote.
Pay inequity has moved to the forefront of national discourse during the buildup to the November midterms, as the Democratic Party has begun to highlight promises to eliminate wage disparities. Yet the discourse has largely ignored the barriers to entry for impoverished, female retail workers.