Apr 8, 2019

Now is a good time to work in retail

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
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Data: Deutsche Bank Research; Chart: Axios

The March jobs report showed that nationwide, wage growth is settling in right above 3%, but it has been growing much faster for retail workers. Unlike most segments of the economy, retail workers' wages are now growing faster than they were during the boom years of the early 2000s.

The big picture: The outperformance is being driven by a combination of state-by-state legislation and a shrinking talent pool.

Target, which employs more than 300,000 workers and operates 1,845 stores in the U.S., announced last week that it was raising its minimum wage to $13 an hour. It raised it to $12 an hour, from $11, just last year. Pressure is now going on Walmart, the world's largest retailer, to likewise increase its $11 hourly minimum wage.

Companies like Amazon and Costco are paying workers a $15 an hour minimum.

The impact: Retail wages stand apart from the crowd, but data shows that broadly low-wage workers are beginning to see higher wage gains, on a percentage basis, than high-wage workers.

  • In March, Goldman Sachs analysts pointed out in a note to clients that "wage growth has picked up sharply in the bottom half of the wage distribution, with considerably slower growth in the upper half."
  • "This pattern is consistent with our prior finding that lower income wage growth is more sensitive to slack, while higher income wage growth is more sensitive to corporate profitability."

Conor Sen, a portfolio manager for New River Investments, writes for Bloomberg that the trend looks likely to continue.

  • "As long as the economic expansion continues, because of these dynamics, we should expect service labor wage growth to continue outpacing knowledge worker wage growth."
  • "You can't outsource a line cook or an Uber driver to another city, but companies can shift their knowledge jobs to lower-cost metros."

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