Drained from the pandemic and empowered by a robust job market, retail workers are leaving their jobs en masse. The Labor Department reported that the retail industry led the most number of resignations of any sector. Around 649,000 workers left the industry last April.
Retail Workers Leaving The Industry
To date, the 649,000 resignations represent the industry’s largest number of workers who decided to leave their jobs in a single month. The Labor Department began tracking such data more than 20 years ago.
Some already found less stressful positions at insurance agencies, marijuana dispensaries, banks, and local governments. There, they discovered that their customer service skills led to higher wages and better benefits.
Meanwhile, other workers chose to return to school to learn new trades. Then again, some workers decided to stay home until they can secure reliable child care.
Many workers reflected on the strains to retail work brought about by the pandemic. Longer hours, understaffed stores, rude and unruly customers, and sometimes pay cuts.
Many felt isolated, demoralized, and anxious. Aislinn Potts, who quit her $11 per hour work at a national pet chain, stayed home to focus on writing and art. “It was a really dismal time, and it made me realize this isn’t worth it. My life isn’t worth a dead-end job,” she noted.
New Jobs In New Industries
Christina Noles, a 34-year old worker at a dollar store, left her job that pays $10.25 an hour. Now, she works from home for a local North Carolina law firm. She still finds her transition too good to be true. “There’s a part of me that feels like this must all be a dream,” Noles said. “There were a lot of things I liked about retail: I love talking to people and helping them, but the pandemic made me realize it was untenable.”
Labor experts said that during the pandemic, many retail workers found it difficult to secure child care and transportation. As the economy began to reopen, many realized that the job market is fully open and that they switch to better-paying jobs in other sectors.
“We’re seeing a wider understanding that these were never good jobs and they were never livable jobs,” said Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. “In many cases, the pay is below a living wage and the hours are inconsistent and insufficient. If anything, the pandemic has made retail jobs even less sustainable than they already were.”
Too Early To Tell If Retail Work Is Unsustainable
In addition, Givan said that it’s too early to say if the latest job exodus meant a long-term effect for retail work. She added that some workers might opt to return to retail work once child care and transportation become more available. For now, many retail workers are moving to industries where workers are in high demand.
With many parts of the country easing up on COVID-19 related restrictions, many service outlets started offering higher pay and benefits to attract workers. However, they have to compete with sectors like professional services, banking, insurance, and real estate, who offer much higher wages. The current median hourly pay for retail workers is around $13,
Shift In The Labor Market
Julia Pollak, a labor economist for ZipRecruiter, says the movement of workers is normal. “In a tight labor market, we often see big shifts among workers with low earnings,” she said. “If you’re making $12 an hour and there’s a job down the street offering $12.50, why not jump? There’s no reason not to — which is what’s happening now.”
As a result, many retailers bit the bullet and began offering higher pay. The likes of Best Buy, Target, and Under Armour increased their starting minimum to $15 per hour. Meanwhile, online retail giant Amazon started offering sign-on bonuses as high as $1,000 to new employees. Overall, retailers posted nearly 1 million job openings in April, more than twice as many as they did a year ago.
Why Retail Workers Left
During the pandemic, experts observed that many retail workers took on additional responsibilities. They often did so without proper safety protections or enough health care coverage. Many also endured verbal and sometimes physical attacks from customers whenever they tried to impose social distancing rules. Some grocery workers even reported trauma from store shootings.
Chris Overland, who sold electronics at a national chain in San Antonio, took a $4-an-hour pay cut during the pandemic. He finally quit before going to work in construction.
“To be getting paid $10 an hour in the middle of a nationwide crisis, it just left a sour taste,” he said. “Now I’m doing more physical labor, but it’s better to pay and I’m having a lot more fun without the stresses of retail. It feels better, mentally.”
Watch the NBC News video reporting that the nationwide labor shortage continues as businesses reopen:
Do you own a retail business that is hurting due to worker shortage? Or, are you a retail worker who left for better-paying industries?
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