University of Georgia/National Retail Federation study debunks myths surrounding retail wages

Report reveals apples-to-apples comparison with other industries, finds retail competitive

© National Retail Federation


The National Retail Federation today released an in-depth study authored by a University of Georgia economist who found that retail jobs pay wages highly competitive with those in other industries despite long-held misconceptions to the contrary.

“The retail industry finally has definitive data to bolster the argument we’ve been making all along – that wages in our industry rival those of other industries when properly compared,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “This report shows that careers in the retail industry are financially rewarding and that those who make a full-time career in retail can rise from entry-level positions to well-paid management and executive jobs.”

NRF released the Wages in the Retail Industry: Getting the Facts Straight report as part of Retail Jobs Week, its latest effort to educate Washington lawmakers about the value retail jobs deliver for millions of workers and the economy as a whole.

The study found that government data gives an inaccurate picture of core retail jobs because of the disproportionate number of part-time, temporary and young workers who are not as common in other industries. While those jobs are vital to the industry and provide flexibility sought by many workers, they result in lower averages when retail is compared against other industries.

“Government data on retail pay is skewed significantly,” University of Georgia Economist Jeffrey Dorfman said. “Once you create an apples-to-apples comparison, retail wages are clearly competitive with other industries and sometimes significantly higher.”

The main findings of Wages in the Retail Industry: Getting the Facts Straight include:

  • Retail jobs pay wages highly competitive with other sectors: Retail workers with similar levels of job skills and experience earn wages comparable to employees in other sectors including manufacturing, transportation, and health care. Retail workers earn an average of $30,984 per year compared with $32,004 for non-retail workers. Excluding part-time, seasonal, and younger workers in order to make a fairer comparison, retail fares even better.

  • Experienced retail workers earn more than their peers in other industries: Full-time retail workers between 25 and 54 make an average of $38,376 per year, slightly higher than the $37,968 earned by non-retail workers. Compared with other industries, retail has a higher percentage of workers age 35-54 who make between $48,000 and $72,000 per year.

  • Retail offers a pathway to middle-class life. The report also include case studies from Walmart, Lowe’s and Macy’s that go beyond the numbers to demonstrate that retail careers offer a pathway to a middle-class life for millions of Americans.

Download the full study: Wages in the Retail Industry (PDF)

Source: National Retail Federation