‘I can’t even afford to buy a cart of groceries’: Spiraling inflation leaves some grocery workers struggling

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Two weeks ago, Mendy Hughes used $4 from her slim bank account to take a family dinner from McDonald’s on her day off as a cashier at Walmart, the nation’s largest grocery store chain. After 12 years with the company, Hughes earns $12.85 an hour as a full-time employee, which is $200 every two weeks to cover essentials and food for himself and his three children after monthly rent and utilities. drop offs.

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“Food — it’s stressful,” said Hughes, 47, of Malvern, Arkansas. “I think all day: ‘What will I buy when I land’ [work] that I can afford? what will I get?’ It’s just difficult.”

I think all day: ‘What will I buy that I can carry when I’m out of work? what will I get?’ It’s just tough.

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As prices skyrocket due to pandemic-induced price inflation, Hughes has found his grocery budget to be essentially zero, leaving fast food the only affordable option to survive. For example, the price per pound of ground beef rose by about 19 percent nationwide from January to October. According Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS. But the last time Hughes got a pay raise was when Walmart raised his hourly wage by $1, a roughly 8 percent increase. Walmart’s new salary increase introduced in September puts him just 85 cents above the company’s standard starting salary.

“It’s even worse now because things have escalated,” Hughes said. “I can’t even buy a cart of groceries.”

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Walmart declined to comment on specific employees’ salaries. In September, the company raised its starting salary from $12 to $17 an hour, depending on the market, and could go up to $34 for people in specialized roles, such as a store baker. The average hourly wage at the company is now $16.40, the company said. Statement those days.

In the 12 months to October, consumer prices rose 6.2 percent, According to BLS. But according to the latest figures of the department, salary and salary increased by only 4.2 percent In the 12 months ending in September.

The gap between wage growth and price inflation doesn’t mean that all consumers are feeling the effect of higher prices on their wallets – workers with the lowest incomes are feeling it the most. In May last year, the average hourly wage for retail sales employees was $13.02 one hour, or approximately $27,172, in full-time annual pay, while computer and IT workers took a $151,150 . average annual salary of, according to the latest data from the BLS.

The main takeaway for ” [the hospitality and retail] The industry is that real wages are not keeping up with inflation and these jobs are barely spilling water,” said Nella Richardson, chief economist at payroll processing company ADP. “As you make more money, rising prices take up less of your budget. But if you’re making a smaller salary, inflation makes a meaningful dent in your total income.”

If you’re making a small salary, inflation is a meaningful dent in your total income.

The pandemic exposed an economic divide between those who can work from home and those who cannot. Those who could not work from home – retail workers, bus drivers, delivery workers – were more likely to catch the coronavirus and less likely to have savings or benefits to support them when they were sick, and to have lower incomes. There was a possibility According for a report from a federal advisory group to the Secretary of Health and Human Services in September. According to data collected by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Of the 835,000 grocery workers, 198 died At least 43,900 were infected or exposed to Covid-19 from March 2020 to August 2021.

Meanwhile, the grocery industry had a record sales year as people stayed at home to avoid the virus. The industry traditionally grows at 1 percent to 2 percent a year, According But the North American grocery industry grew 12 percent last year for management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Last year, Kroger had sales of $135 billion, up 10.6 percent from $122 billion in 2019. According for the company. costco sales Enhanced Last year, it grew 9 percent to about $163 billion, from $149 billion a year ago. Walmart’s food sales grew $3.6 billion in the third quarter of this year, the strongest quarterly growth in six quarters, Walmart’s chief financial officer told investors in an earnings call last week.

Bianca Agustin, corporate accountability director of the nonprofit labor advocacy group United for Respect, said in an email that the strain of rising costs on low-wage income “is an urgent reminder for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage by at least $15″. . ”

“This is the bare minimum to ensure that essential workers and working families are included in the economic recovery,” she said.

There has been a wave of calls to raise the federal minimum wage as the grueling pandemic has thrown grocery workers like Hughes on the front lines of the virus and prompted political hostility toward safety protocols like masks. In response to the added work risk of contracting the virus, some retailers temporarily extended their sick leave benefits and last year rolled out hazard pay for some months to front-line workers in the pandemic. However, as of June, Albertsons, Kroger and Fred Meyer were some of the grocers who slashed their bonus pay to work through the pandemic.

As the pandemic passed its one-year mark, retail workers began leaving the industry as low pay and burnout, Labour Department informed of 730,000 retail workers left their jobs in August and 685,000 in September. In response, retail companies rushed to raise wages to retain workers and increase profits to attract applicants to fill a growing list of open roles. costco raised Its minimum hourly wage of $17 last month. natural grocers said Last month it increased its starting hourly wage from $14 to $18. Aldi announced It’s raising its average hourly starting wage to $15 in August.

“Wage increases are a sign of hope,” said Gary Bertles, a senior fellow in economics studies at the Brookings Institution. “Although at the moment it is not widespread enough to be reflected in the economy.”

Also, rising consumer demand for the goods, global supply chain crises and labor shortages have fueled the rise in prices. Price inflation hit its highest point in more than 30 years last month, but 6.2 percent,

When it comes to wage benefits, workers in the hospitality industry grew 1 percent in September compared to a year earlier, Richardson said. He said trade and retail wages rose 6.7 percent in September compared to a year ago, meaning wages in the sector are barely in line with prices.

The difference between the hourly wage and the cost of food often means that many grocery workers are faced with the daily experience of being around food they cannot afford.

“It’s terrifying to see baskets and baskets of groceries knowing I can’t buy them,” Hughes said.

It’s terrible to see baskets and baskets of groceries knowing I can’t buy them.

While changing jobs has resulted in higher wages for some, leisure and hospitality and retail are unique segments, in that moving jobs are generally not as profitable as other industries, Richardson said. Some of the benefits that some workers receive from their grocery employers are too valuable to leave better-paying jobs with less benefits.

A supervisor at a Kroger store in Tennessee, who asked to remain anonymous because she isn’t allowed to speak to the media, said she often skips breakfast and eats some crackers to stretch her budget. She earns $10 an hour by working part-time when she attends community college. But for a college student looking to support himself, the benefits of the company outweigh the low salary.

“I’ve looked at other jobs,” she said. “But Kroger has some benefits I wish I could ever need them, like health insurance, and tuition reimbursement if something falls through with my school scholarship.”

Kroger spokeswoman Kristal Howard said in an email that the company has invested $800 million in salaries and training over the past three years. It’s investing $350 million more this year to raise its median national wage to more than $16 an hour. It also introduced a one-time pandemic-related bonus of $1,200 for part-time workers and $1,760 for full-time workers.

Hughes said he considered leaving Walmart but earned full-time status at the company only last year, which comes with long-term and short-term disability benefits.

“It’s also difficult to pay my bills and make ends meet,” she said. “It’s just figuring out how to get through the day and trying to budget how I’m going to spend the food.”

Credit: www.nbcnews.com /

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