Every Day Low Wages

November 27, 2013

Workers at retail establishments across the country are gearing up for Black Friday sales. Workers at Walmart are also preparing for a series of actions across the country to protest low-wages at the retail giant.

Both Walmart and its workers have focused on the importance of annual earnings of at least $25,000. Walmart CEO Bill Simon recently announced that a majority of the company’s 1.3 million employees make $25,000 a year for full-time work. Our Walmart, the organization of Walmart associates, has called on the company to pay at least $25,000 annually.

While we don’t have access to Walmart-specific data, we do have data from the government’s Current Population Survey (CPS), which lets us look at a group of workers that roughly fits the profile of Walmart workers: cashiers, retail sales, and stock clerks in warehouse clubs, superstores, and supercenters. Of course, these numbers cover Walmart and its competitors, some of which, like Costco pay higher wages than Walmart.

What is striking about the CPS data on workers in this group is just how many make less than $25,000 per year. The table below shows data drawn from two different versions of the CPS: the CPS Outgoing Rotation Group (ORG), which reports hourly wages and usual weekly hours worked, and the March CPS, which reports annual earnings from work. To avoid problems with small sample sizes, we’ve pooled data for 2010, 2011, and 2012, but all the numbers refer to inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars.


By both measures, about 83 percent of workers in these jobs make less than $25,000 per year. Only about 40 percent of full-time workers earn above the $25,000 cut-off. Essentially all (97-98 percent) of the part-time (or part-year) workers earn less than $25,000.

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