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Blacks ‘segregated’ in low-paying retail jobs

JAZELLE HUNT | 6/15/2015, 8:44 a.m.
More than 1.9 million Black Americans work in retail, accounting for 11 percent of the industry’s total workforce. Despite being ...
Blacks in retail paid less than their counterparts. Tomwsulcer/CC0 public domain

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – More than 1.9 million Black Americans work in retail, accounting for 11 percent of the industry’s total workforce. Despite being the second-largest source of employment for Black workers, new data from the NAACP and equality advocacy organization Demos finds that the industry is rife with racial inequality and poor earning potential.

According to the report, titled The Retail Race Divide, full-time Black and Latino salespersons earn 75 percent of the wages of their White counterparts. For Black and Latino cashiers, the figure is 90 percent.

Further, Black and Latino workers are sometimes stuck in “occupational segregation;” not only are they overrepresented in low-wage industries such as retail, but they’re also overrepresented in the lowest-paying positions within these industries. Consider: Black people make up 11 percent of the retail force, but 6 percent of those in managerial or leadership roles.

“They are, in effect, segregated by color and income. Now, not segregated as a matter of law, as was the case many years ago … but certainly by circumstance, by industry practice. Even where we don’t have overt discrimination that violates Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act], there are subtle forms of discrimination that may also violate Title VII, but are less obvious,” said Cornell Williams Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP.

“It’s not necessarily that a company has a policy that says African Americans and Latinos should be overrepresented at the cash register and in lower-paid positions. But rather, if they do not have policies to ensure that African Americans and Latinos have access to and are encouraged to apply for better-paying positions as managers, there’s something profoundly wrong.”

Brittany O’Neal has worked in retail for three years, most currently in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington, Virginia. The 25-year-old full-time student is a few credits shy of earning a criminal justice degree, but also works full-time hours as a salesperson to support her 3-year-old son.

“The store I work at ... comes with a lot of customer service. Sometimes you work really hard and [customers] end up just returning everything,” she said. “[Our pay] is all commission, unless you don’t make enough. Then you get your hourly wage.”

O’Neal says support from her family and managers in accommodating her schedule make it easier to earn enough money and still finish school. Not everyone is so fortunate; according to the report, retail wage disparities also happen through inadequate and unreliable scheduling practices. While Black, White, Latino and Asian people work part-time at even rates, nearly half of all Black and Latino retail workers would prefer full-time hours (compared to 29 percent of Whites and Latinos). The report’s measure doesn’t include workers who want more hours while remaining part-time, which would likely play out along racial lines as well.

There’s also the difficulty in being “on-call,” a common practice among retail managers.

“Although just-in-time scheduling can have negative effects
for any retail worker, there is reason to believe that the burden
is disproportionately heavy on Black and Latino workers,” the report states, adding that this is the population most likely to juggle their educations, parenting and additional employment while holding a retail job.