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Blacks ‘Segregated’ in Low-Paying Retail Jobs



Blacks paid less in retail (Photo credit: Tomwsulcer/CC0 public domain)

Blacks paid less in retail (Photo credit: Tomwsulcer/CC0 public domain)

By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – More than 1.9 million Black Americans work in retail, accounting for 11 percent of the industry’s total workforce. Despite being the second-largest source of employment for Black workers, new data from the NAACP and equality advocacy organization, Demos, finds that the industry is rife with racial inequality and poor earning potential.

According to the report, titled “The Retail Race Divide,” full-time Black and Latino salespersons earn 75 percent of the wages of their White counterparts. For Black and Latino cashiers, the figure is 90 percent. Further, Black and Latino workers are sometimes stuck in “occupational segregation;” not only are they overrepresented in low-wage industries such as retail, but they’re also overrepresented in the lowest paying positions within these industries. Consider: Black people make up 11 percent of the retail force, but 6 percent of those in managerial or leadership roles.

“They are, in effect, segregated by color and income. Now, not segregated as a matter of law, as was the case many years ago…but certainly by circumstance, by industry practice. Even where we don’t have overt discrimination that violates Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act], there are subtle forms of discrimination that may also violate Title VII, but are less obvious,” says Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP.

“It’s not necessarily that a company has a policy that says African Americans and Latinos should be overrepresented at the cash register and in lower paid positions. But rather, if they do not have policies to ensure that African Americans and Latinos have access to and are encouraged to apply for better paying positions as managers, there’s something profoundly wrong.”

Brittany O’Neal has worked in retail for three years, most currently in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington, Virginia. The 25-year-old full-time student is a few credits shy of earning a criminal justice degree, but also works full-time hours as a salesperson to support her 3-year-old son.

“The store I work at…comes with a lot of customer service. Sometimes you work really hard and [customers] end up just returning everything,” she says. “[Our pay] is all commission, unless you don’t make enough. Then you get your hourly wage.”

O’Neal says support from her family and managers in accommodating her schedule make it easier to earn enough money and still finish school. Not everyone is so fortunate; according to the report, retail wage disparities also happen through inadequate and unreliable scheduling practices. While Black, White, Latino, and Asian people work part-time at even rates, nearly half of all Black and Latino retail workers would prefer full-time hours (compared to 29 percent of Whites and Latinos). The report’s measure doesn’t include workers who want more hours while remaining part-time, which would likely play out along racial lines as well.

There’s also the difficulty in being “on-call,” a common practice among retail managers.

“Although just-in-time scheduling can have negative effects
for any retail worker, there is reason to believe that the burden
is disproportionately heavy on Black and Latino workers,” the report states, adding that this is the population most likely to juggle their educations, parenting, and additional employment while holding a retail job.

“Moreover, due to residential segregation and other socioeconomic constraints, Black workers have longer commute times than White workers, leading to greater time and money costs when their shifts are cut short.”

The disparities spell serious repercussions for Black Americans, and particularly Black families. Fully 17 percent of Black retail workers live below the poverty line, compared to 9 percent of retail workers overall. More than half of Black workers are responsible for at least half their household’s income, and they are the most likely of all retail workers to be the sole breadwinner in their households – 26 percent are, compared to 15 percent of White workers, and 18 percent of retail workers overall. Black retail workers are also significantly more likely to be raising children on these wages – 65 percent are, compared to the overall 33 percent.

And, according to recent analysis from the National Low Income Housing Coalition –an affordable housing research and advocacy organization – there’s nowhere in the country where a full-time minimum wage worker can afford a one-bedroom apartment (priced at the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s standard of Fair Market Rent), without paying more than 30 percent of their income.

“There’s this notion that people working in the retail industry are young, inexperienced, and lack dependents. But here’s the blue-collar reality: 90 percent of African American and Latino retail workers are over 20 years of age, and half of them provide at least 50 percent of the income their families need to survive,” Brooks says. “We’re not talking about adolescents at the cash register working part time or working to add a little something to their young budgets. We’re talking about people who have families to support.”

The effects of these disparities extend beyond retail workers’ households.

As the report explains, “Service industry employment became more central to the well-being of American workers, but the low wages and uncertain schedules that characterize that employment undermined household financial security and, by extension, growth and stability for the economy overall.”

In short, low household income translates to low consumerism, poor wealth generation, poor entrepreneurship, and slower growth in the overall economy.

The NAACP/Demos report suggests that the problems can be alleviated if retailers raise the wages for their least paid positions, as well as through state and federal policies. It also points out that legal battles and union actions have been useful tools in securing better outcomes for retail workers.

Brooks encourages people to challenge the status quo through interpersonal, legal, and civic avenues.

He says, “One of the best allies in the fight for a living wage is the NAACP. So I’d encourage people to join local branches of the NAACP, help us organize for living wages, and help us make it clear to the country that you should not have to work hard to be poor.”

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Gov. Newsom Signs Package of Laws Supporting Restaurants, Bars

California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a COVID-19 recovery package Friday supporting small hospitality establishments around the state, including restaurants and bars.



Oakland, CA, USA February 21, 2011 Folks enjoy a sunny day with al fresco dining at the historic Last Chance Saloon, made famous by author Jack London, in Oakland, California/ iStock

California Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a COVID-19 recovery package Friday supporting small hospitality establishments around the state, including restaurants and bars. 

Signed at a restaurant in Oakland, the legislative package includes Assembly Bill (AB) 61, Senate Bill (SB) 314 and SB 389 – bills that, among other provisions, extend COVID-19 special permissions like outdoor dining and to-go licenses for alcoholic beverages. 

Funding for the package will come out of the governor’s California Comeback Plan which allots $10.2 billion in small business support. So far, the state has spent $4 billion on an emergency grant program and $6.2 billion in tax relief for small businesses. 

“These innovative strategies have been a lifeline for hard-hit restaurants during the pandemic and today, we’re keeping the entrepreneurial spirit going so that businesses can continue to create exciting new opportunities and support vibrant neighborhoods across the state,” said Newsom. 

The state support comes at a time when many Black-owned small businesses in California, including restaurants, are struggling to recover after being hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) research, 13 % of Black-owned businesses have had to close down due to the pandemic, compared to 8% of White-owned ones. For Latino-owned businesses that number is even higher at 18 %. 

Due to the pandemic, Black businesses have experienced higher revenue loss, more layoffs of employees and less success in getting government funded relief like assistance from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. 

“We have all seen the fallout from the pandemic and recession and the effect on BIPOC people and BIPOC small businesses owners has been devastating,” said Tara Lynn Gray, Director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate. She was speaking at an IGS event last week titled “Diversity and Entrepreneurship in California: An Undergraduate Research Symposium.”

“These are problems that have to be addressed. Access to capital continues to be a challenge,” Gray continued. “We are seeing bankers like Wells Fargo, Citi and JP Morgan Chase making significant investments in BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) small businesses, communities and individuals. That is a trend I would like to continue to see.”

Gray pointed out there are a number of state programs like the Small Business COVID-19 relief funds that prioritize providing relief funding to underserved businesses in the state. 

Authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) respectively, AB 61 and SB 314 establish a one-year regulatory grace period for businesses operating under temporary COVID-19 licenses to get permanent expanded licenses, such as outdoor dining authorization.

The one-year grace period will begin once the pandemic emergency declaration has expired. 

“Outdoor dining has been a critical lifeline that has helped these establishments keep their doors open during these challenging times,” said Gabriel.

 “AB 61 provides important flexibility so that restaurants can safely expand outdoor dining and continue to serve the communities they call home. I applaud Governor Newsom for his thoughtful leadership in protecting both public health and small businesses as we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Gabriel continued.

Wiener also stressed the importance of pandemic protocols for small businesses in California.

“SB 314 ensures the public can continue to enjoy outdoor dining with alcohol and that our small neighborhood businesses can continue to benefit from this change. The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, and it’s important we make changes to modernize our entertainment and hospitality laws to allow them more flexibility and more ways to safely serve customers,” he said.  

SB 389 allows restaurants, breweries, wineries and bars that sell food to continue to sell to-go alcoholic beverages through Dec. 31, 2026.

“This is an important step toward helping our restaurants, which have been hit hard by the pandemic,” said Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), SB 389’s author. 

“It will ensure their recovery, protecting jobs and our economy. I thank Gov. Newsom for supporting this new law,” he continued.


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City Must Pay Contractors, Businesses, Non-Profits Promptly

By restoring the Prompt Payment Ordinance, local organizations working for Oaklanders will be compensated in a timely manner and can do more work for Oakland as a result.



Sheng Thao

I have introduced legislation to restore the City of Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance and it will be heard at 1:30 p.m. by the City Council on October 19 because local contractors and local businesses need to be compensated in a timely manner for work they do on behalf of the City.

It’s unacceptable that the city is using the COVID-19 pandemic to delay payment to these local non-profit organizations.  By restoring the Prompt Payment Ordinance, local organizations working for Oaklanders will be compensated in a timely manner and can do more work for Oakland as a result.

In March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, then-Interim City Administrator, Steven Falk issued an Emergency Order suspending parts of the City’s codes to give the City the flexibility to navigate the uncertain times.  Few would have guessed then that the world would still be navigating the COVID-19 Pandemic nearly 18 months later. One of the ordinances suspended by the Emergency Order was the Prompt Payment Ordinance.

Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance requires the City to compensate local businesses and contractors executing City grants or contracts within 20 days of receiving an invoice.  This allows local organizations providing services on behalf of the City of Oakland to be compensated in a timely manner and builds trust between these organizations and the city.  Local contractors and businesses provide a diverse set of services to the City, covering areas ranging from trash removal and paving to public safety.

Almost 18 months since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Oakland’s Prompt Payment Ordinance is still suspended.  Even as City staff have adjusted to working remotely and the City has adjusted to operating during the pandemic, there is no requirement that the City compensate its contractors or local businesses in a timely manner.

Oaklanders can comment at the meeting by joining the Zoom meeting via this link or calling 1-669-900-6833 and using the Meeting ID 885 2765 2491 and raising their hand during the public comment period at the beginning of the Council meeting.


The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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A’s Owner John Fisher Port Proposal No Good for Oakland

Billionaire John Fisher, owner of the A’s, has things to do before he can take over Oakland’s public port property to build malls and housing for the rich. 



Howard Terminal on Port of Oakland Map


Billionaire John Fisher, owner of the A’s, has things to do before he can take over Oakland’s public port property to build malls and housing for the rich. 

It is such a bad idea and the costs to the public are so ridiculous that logically it shouldn’t happen.  But this right-wing, Trump-supporting Republican has a boatload of money and a few corporation-oriented politicians to help him push it through.  

So, Oaklanders need to be active, or he might get it. Here are two of the things we need to act on: 

  1. Fisher won’t spend his own money.  So, he wants Alameda County to give up spending on things like the COVID-19 pandemic, so we residents can pay for his project with taxpayer money.  The vote on this will come up to the Board of Supervisors on October 26.  If you’d prefer that the County fund health care, housing and other resident necessities, ask them to vote “No.” Call your supervisor at 510-208-4949 and/or attend the meeting.
  2. The Oakland City Council will make the ultimate decision about Fisher’s project and there are a zillion reasons they should say “No.”  Among them: a) Fisher’s project requires that thousands of people run across the tracks of a busy railroad, which killed a number of people even before there were big crowds needing to get to their condos or a stadium.   b) And  Fisher’s project would wreck Oakland’s Port.  The “Seaport Compatibility Measures” necessary to keep the Port alive would cost hundreds of millions of dollars which would not be needed if it were not for Fisher’s project.  So, Fisher, not taxpayers, should pay for them. c)  And then there are all the other ways it will hurt the waterfront, the environment, and Port workers.

You can get contact information to reach your Council member here –

Personally, any public official who votes for Fisher’s project will never get my vote again.   Call me hard-headed, but the harm to  Oakland as a working-class, multi-racial city, the harm to the ILWU (the union of Port workers, perhaps the most progressive union in America)  and the opposition of the people of East Oakland are enough to make my hard head think that’s what solidarity requires.

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