The real cost of those Black Friday deals

By Caitlin Kelly
November 24, 2011

By Caitlin Kelly
The opinions expressed are her own.

Americans shop. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. We’re still an economy powered by consumer spending – 70 percent of it, in fact. It’s an article of faith, for some, that annual Thanksgiving celebrations not only include turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, but lining up in the cold and dark at their favorite store to snag a Black Friday bargain.

Maybe not this year.

Spurred perhaps by the growing national strength of the Occupy Wall Street movement, two emboldened Target workers, Anthony Hardwick, of Omaha, NE and Seth Coleman, a dockworker from Northfield, MN have collected 180,000 signatures protesting their employer’s unprecedented decision to open their stores to shoppers at midnight. Coleman delivered a bag of signatures gathered on-line to Target headquarters in Minneapolis earlier this week.

Coleman will be working at the Target store in Northfield on Thanksgiving Day, from 4 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Then he’ll return 12 hours later, to make sure the shelves are stocked for the company’s first ever midnight opening for the Christmas rush, reported Minnesota Public Radio.

There is also some talk of retail workers taking a sick-out to protest retailers’ demands that they leave their own holiday meals in order to be work by midnight or earlier.

Retailers routinely excuse their escalating demands, such as this year’s ever-earlier Black Friday store openings, because their competitors are doing it. They’ll lose business, they argue, if they don’t follow the herd. Retailers defend all corporate decisions — no matter how detrimental they may be to their indispensible low-wage workers or how unpopular they may be with shoppers newly sensitized to the needs of the 99 percent. Retailers claim it’s alright because they have to protect shareholders’ interests by keeping profits high and hitting their quarterly projections.

But are American shoppers truly comfortable with the real price of these putative bargains? Is any sale item really worth knowing that your friends and neighbors, children and grandchildren working in retail, are toiling long, grueling hours for pennies?

Do you really want to drag them away from their own holiday tables to sell you one more item a little more cheaply?

Retail is an almost $4 trillion industry. It’s the nation’s third-largest, and it’s the country’s largest source of new jobs in an economy where many employers, even those sitting on record corporate profits, still refuse to hire.

But what’s the value of these jobs?

The median retail wage in 2010 was $8.90 for a cashier and $9.86 for a sales associate – down from $9.50 an hour in 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than three-quarters of retail workers are older than 25, contradicting the popular belief that only teens living at home work retail for a little extra pocket money.

One-third of all retail workers are the sole income for their families, working for poverty-level wages. Many of them want to work full-time, but retail employers, who clearly have the upper hand in an era with few other available jobs, consistently and increasingly offer them only part-time positions without benefits. Part-time workers earn a third less than those employed full-time, despite the physical and emotional labor — and the skills and product knowledge that retail work requires — being identical.

With wages remaining so low, many full-time retail workers need food stamps to boost their incomes. In New York, those in support of higher wages joined a rally Monday evening — some 2,000 strong — to fight for the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, which would require all developers receiving government tax breaks to impose a minimum wage on the retail tenants of their stadiums, malls or conference centers, requiring them to pay $10 per hour with benefits and $11.50 per hour without.

In 2008, another crowd of 2,000 people gathered outside a WalMart in Valley Stream, NY. They’d been massing since midnight for a Black Friday sale, and by the time the doors were opened at 5:00 a.m., tempers had frayed. As shoppers literally stampeded in, they trampled a 34-year-old employee, Jdimytai Damour, to death.

We all want a bargain. But let’s all keep some sense of our values as well.

Photo: A view of a Wal-Mart.com store at the Topanga Plaza in Canoga Park, California, November 8, 2011. Two tiny Walmart.com stores are making Southern California malls their home for the holidays, launching the latest salvo in the war for online retail dominance. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

45 comments

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@4ngry4American,

When I said “sounds like” I referred not to your words, but to the mental perspective reflected by them. Similarly, I said nothing about “every penny of the billions that they hoard” because there are very, very few Americans who HAVE “billions”.

Being a free country, whether an American has a hundred, a thousand, a million or whatever if it’s HIS or HERS by legal means they their right to spend it, hoard it or play Scrooge McDuck and just run it through their fingers.

My wife and I live predominately on Social Security month to month, and so no, I can’t afford to pay an ADULT $7+ to use MY equipment…tried that, 1d10T burned up my weed eater (didn’t put the gas that had the oil in it in the thing) and my mower (never checked the oil). Money doesn’t fix 5TUP1D.

You’re the one green with envy that hates the people that run the businesses that employ many working Americans or the operations that sell services to those employed. Your “collective bargaining” has wrongfully increased the cost of America’s infrastructure to the 80+% of Americans that don’t “live well-work union” but are forced to live on less so YOU can earn more.

I said NOTHING about your patriotism. I said that you do not exhibit the gratitude any native-born American should feel for the privilege of living in America as it is, with all it’s flaws. Is it perfect? No! It doesn’t have to be. All it has to be is the place just about every person who CAN relocate here chooses when thry “vote with their feet”

You picked an appropriate posting name. All you do is gripe and find fault. That makes you an ingrate…a person not properly grateful for that which has fallen in their lap as a matter of luck.

You’re already bitter, apparently having given up on “your piece of the American dream. Maybe you’re just greedy yourself, since a “union piece” is already bigger than the “piece” most of us get. I doubt you would live long under Communism.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

OneOfTheSheep – “Being a free country, whether an American has a hundred, a thousand, a million or whatever if it’s HIS or HERS by legal means they their right to spend it, hoard it or play Scrooge McDuck and just run it through their fingers.”
“Your “collective bargaining” has wrongfully increased the cost of America’s infrastructure to the 80+% of Americans that don’t “live well-work union” but are forced to live on less so YOU can earn more.”
If you cannot see the blatant hypocrisy in these two completely contradicting statements, then you have already fatally overdosed on Fox News. There is no help for you.

Posted by 4ngry4merican | Report as abusive

@4ngry4merican,

Intended to say “Being a free country, whether an American has a hundred, a thousand, a million pennies, nickles, dimes, quarters or dollars if it’s HIS or HERS by legal means it’s their individual right to spend it, hoard it or play Scrooge McDuck and just run it through their fingers as they please. It’s no one else’s business whatsoever.”

”The only connection between the two quotes is truth. Hope you work it out.

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” – Frederick Keonig

Happy Holidays!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

OneOfTheSheep – I’m not the one who needs to work out my “truth”. You’re the one who chooses to blind yourself to the hypocricy of claiming that the mega-rich are entitled to their millions because they earned them by morally questionable but technically legal means, but union laborers are for some reason less entitled to their living wages despite the fact that they earned them just as legally. If you seriously believe that collective bargaining is a greater evil than legally bribing your congressmen to eliminate regulations and create tax loopholes for your own personal gain, then you are too far gone to be helped.

“you will die bitter and broke INGRATE!”

“Happy Holidays!”

Don’t forget to take your medication today…

Posted by 4ngry4merican | Report as abusive

yes i want to get up at 1am and be at walmart or target and wade into the fray in order to get spayed with pepper spray. tis the season. BRING IT ON.AHHHHH

Posted by freddoe | Report as abusive