A new report by the Washington Post reveals that nearly 650,000 retail workers left their jobs in April because people are tired of working long hours under unfair conditions for low pay and benefits
Retail workers have long been mistreated by customers and management, working thanklessly in less-than-ideal conditions typically offering low pay and negligible benefits — and that was well before a global pandemic put them at the forefront of potentially life-threatening risk in their high-contact, public-facing positions.
While it seemed like retail workers were finally getting some long-overdue appreciation at the start of the pandemic last year, failure on a state or federal level to increase wages, benefits, and protections for the workers briefly deemed “essential” — along with a seeming uptick in retail Karens and other service businesses across the country — and it might not come as a huge surprise that hundreds of thousands of retail workers have been leaving their jobs in recent months.
According to a report by the Washington Post, around 649,000 retail workers resigned from their positions in April, marking the industry’s largest one-month spike in resignations since the Labor Department began tracking such data more than two decades ago. The Post interviewed over a dozen workers who had recently left their jobs, sharing that the continued strain exacerbated by the pandemic has directly inspired them to seek roles in other industries, namely ones that offer higher wages, better benefits, improved working conditions, and less exploitation.
This mass exodus from retail jobs is made especially clear as restaurant signs proclaiming a lack of workers often go viral online.
Of course, if you read any given conservative news outlet, employees reportedly don’t want to go back to work due to “government handouts.” One particular restaurant — Joseph’s Grill in Minnesota — posted signs on each table claiming they are short-staffed because “no one wants to work” thanks to “government handouts.” It was later revealed how laughable that argument is when the internet found receipts that the restaurant itself accepted “government handouts” in the form of a PPP loan.
The longstanding narrative is that people would rather live off unemployment benefits and stimulus checks than go to work, but nearly all the workers interviewed mentioned that the pandemic only highlighted the issues that had already existed, while creating entirely new ones, including longer hours, understaffed stores, unruly customers, inflexibility for child care and access to transportation, and pay cuts.
It’s unclear just yet if the trend will continue, but what is clear is that a living wage and fair, safe working conditions are the bare minimum, and hopefully, workers of all skill levels and industries are able to find positions where they are valued and appreciated. “We’re seeing a wider understanding that these were never good jobs and they were never livable jobs,” Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University, told WaPo. “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.”
One 23-year-old worker, who left an $11 per hour job at a national pet chain to focus on writing and art, summed it up pretty perfectly, telling WaPo, “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.”