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New Study Finds Bronx is Worst Borough for Retail Workers Stuck with Low Wages and no Benefits
New York Daily News
Daniel Beekman

January 17, 2012
View the Original Article

Retail workers across New York are stuck with low wages, subpar benefits and erratic schedules, but Bronx workers have it the worst, a new study claims.

The mean pay for Bronx retail workers is $8 an hour, barely more than the minimum wage, according to a report released Tuesday by the Retail Action Project and the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies at CUNY.

“The numbers are shocking,” said Talisa Erazo, 22, a bookstore worker and college student from Mosholu Parkway who makes under $8 an hour and helps support her out-of-work mother. “My situation shouldn’t be the norm.”

The mean pay is $10 in Manhattan, $9 in Queens and $8.50 in Brooklyn, the survey of 436 non-union workers at national and local chains such as Sears and Cookies found. Mayor Bloomberg last week called on Gov. Cuomo to increase the state minimum wage.

“The public can no longer stand on the sidelines when it comes to improving the quality of retail jobs,” said Carrie Gleason, executive director of the Retail Action Project, a Manhattan organization partly bankrolled by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

Some chains pay their Manhattan workers more than they pay for the same jobs in the Bronx, said Gleason, noting that women and people of color also earn less and enjoy fewer benefits. Nearly 80% of Latinas surveyed said they made under $10 an hour. “Latinas are hit the hardest, many of them in the Bronx,” she said.

The average Bronx retail worker surveyed works 34 hours a week and keeps the same job for more than two years, but more than 60% lack medical insurance or rely on Medicaid.

“The result is more poverty among working people,” said Ruth Milkman, Murphy Institute sociology professor. “Taxpayers are subsidizing these stores, because the workers depend on food stamps and subsidized housing.”

Opponents of higher wages in the industry often describe retail employees as young people working part-time, said Gleason. But the average age for Bronx retail workers is 27, according to the report. Many have children to support on less than $20,000 a year.

Unpredictable scheduling is another problem, said Sheena Dixon, who worked nights as a Target security guard. “It makes it hard to plan your life,” said Dixon, 26, of Pelham Parkway.

The highest hourly wage of any Bronx worker surveyed was $13.50, while the highest Manhattan wage was $20 an hour. The lowest hourly wage reported in the Bronx was $6 an hour well below the minimum.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is backing a bill that would require firms receiving subsidies - but not their retail tenants - to pay a “living wage.” Gleason called it a "good first step."