CNBC: Future Doesn't Look Bright for Retail Workers

Monday, 04 Aug 2014 08:55 AM

By Dan Weil

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Non-farm payrolls may have risen 209,000 in July, but that's not going to do much for workers in the retail sector, experts say.

Retail workers' inflation-adjusted wages are lower than they were 35 years ago amid restructuring in the industry. And experts tell CNBC that retailers are forcing their employees to work unpredictable hours to boost efficiency.

"I think one reason for the bad jobs in retail is that the philosophy of most retailers is that labor is just a cost, and they should minimize that cost," Zeynep Ton, an MIT Management School adjunct associate professor, told CNBC.

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Experts don't expect the workers' situation to improve much.

"I don't think there's going to be any pressure for retailers to offer significantly better wages or benefits than they're offering now," Jack Plunkett, CEO of market research firm Plunkett Research, told CNBC.

The migration of retail sales to the Internet certainly isn't helping things. "Online doesn't really change the types of jobs we have in the country. It just changes how you get the goods you bought," Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, told CNBC.

However, Ellen Davis, senior vice president of the National Retail Federation, the industry's trade group, disagrees.

"Technology and the digital experience (are) changing the retail industry incredibly quickly," Davis argued. "You almost have to have a crystal ball to think about how technology will influence the industry in the next 10 to 20 years, and then you have to figure out how to staff around that."

As for the employment picture overall, CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow is unimpressed with recent payroll growth. "This is very mediocre stuff," he told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

"You've got people dropping out of the labor force left and right. . . . Wages are low, hence consumer spending is highly mediocre."

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