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Waiting on Walmart: Understanding Retail at the National Retail Federation Expo

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Over the next decade, retail is expected to be the second largest source of new jobs in the United States. Over 15 million Americans rely on jobs from large department stores to neighborhood shops to provide for themselves and their families.

Take for example two Walmart employees out in California that are the sole providers for their two young boys. They both work for the largest retailer in the world, Walmart, which employs 1.2 million workers. Collectively they make less than $30,000 a year, while the six heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton have as much wealth as 42 percent of Americans combined -- over 48 million families. Companies like Walmart must be held accountable for the poor quality of jobs.

According to the Fiscal Policy Institute, "Retail jobs are one of the top three fastest growing sources of private sector employment in the city. Nearly one in ten of the city's private sector jobs is in retail. However, retail jobs hold another distinction -- the industry is also New York City's largest low-wage employer. One in seven New York low-wage workers is employed in retail."

This is not just about wages either. Instead of giving workers full time jobs, many large retailers have steered away from full-time employment, forcing workers to struggle for hours and deal with unpredictable and erratic schedules.

Retail workers are finding that their hours are getting cut over and over. In fact, nearly eight million part-time workers in the United States would prefer full-time employment, but their shifts have been getting shorter and shorter.

Instead of adequate, predictable hours with steady paychecks and basic benefits like paid sick days and health insurance, retailers are forcing workers to open up their availability just to keep their jobs, while slashing their hours. These scheduling trends make it even more difficult to survive on poverty level wages.

This week, retail CEOs at the National Retail Federation are having their annual conference in New York City, taking credit for job creation and economic recovery. But when these moguls talk about job creation, it's imperative to explore the types of jobs being created. Retail jobs are a crucial source of income for the families of workers in this sector, so why are there currently more than one million retail workers and their family members living in or near poverty? That's not what economic recovery looks like.

Corporate retailers' abusive part-time scheduling practices are causing this crisis of underemployment.

As Walmart's President and CEO Bill Simon prepares to speak at the National Retail Federation's expo, he needs to hear from workers from within the retail industry on issues like the economy and job creation. Walmart is not the appropriate company to address a retail audience about job creation and affordable wages that positively impact our economy. It is not fighting for good jobs in the retail industry.

As the National Retail Federation meets in our city, I'd like to remind them that the way they'd truly improve the economy and create jobs is to provide affordable and fair working conditions for all workers. America's largest retailers have an important role to play in our nation's economy and in the well-being of millions of lives. Retailers could provide the nation with a much needed economic boost by paying higher wages and providing stable scheduling, while still remaining profitable and continuing to offer low prices.

After years of slow economic growth and income stagnation or decline, retail can help put America back on track, creating meaningful gains for household budgets, GDP, and employment. It's time for family-sustaining jobs in retail.