In the years since the Great Recession, the number of “working poor” Americans has skyrocketed. Between 2007 and 2012, employed individuals whose income was nevertheless at or below the federal poverty line (defined as $11,720 annual income in 2012 for an individual) jumped to 10.6 million from 7.5 million.
The group now comprises 7.1 percent of the U.S. labor force.
Half of this group is aged 16-34.
And most of them work at stores that you’re likely to be shopping at this holiday season.
So, as the holiday season hits, we wanted to find out which of the big retail chains treat their employees best—or at least, the least badly.
To do that, we turned to Glassdoor.com, a site where workers anonymously rate their employers based on things like salary, benefits, hours, and workplace environment. We only used employers that had racked up more than 600 reviews on the site, taking each one’s overall rating out of 5 stars. Glassdoor reviews are vetted, and employers are prevented from logging on to remove negative reviews.
Then we plotted that against the average listed salary for each chain’s hourly sales rep, or an equivalent job.
With perhaps one or two exceptions, none of the employers listed provide anything in the way of benefits or experience that truly make up for the struggle you’d face by working in a position that pays a median hourly wage of $12.20.
But some are nevertheless slightly better than others. Check it out:
Read on to learn about each in detail…
Average hourly wage: $13.06
Glassdoor rating: 3.9
Reviews of Apple by Apple Store employees were generally favorable. Someone called it “the best place to work in retail,” but still gave it 4 stars out of 5, showing that that’s about as good as it gets in this industry. Hours can be chaotic. “Hours are long and there is not a set schedule,” one Genius Bar employee wrote. “Many locations are based in malls so they are open during almost all holidays.”
Average hourly wage: $12.49
Glassdoor rating: 3.9
CostCo receives mostly positive reviews, especially on pay and benefits — it is the only employer on this list where full healthcare for an hourly employee is relatively easily within reach. Full-time wage employees are benefit-eligible on the first of the month after working 90 days, and part-time ones are eligible after 180 days. Some employees complained that nailing down regular hours at CostCo can be difficult. “Little control with schedule as a full time employee,” a former Michigan employee says. “No PTO allowed from November 1st until the end of the holidays.”
Average hourly wage: $12.33
Glassdoor rating: 3.4
Amazon scored surprisingly high on the list given bad press the company has received about working conditions in its warehouses. Reviewers say the salary is high compared with many traditional retail jobs, though some said it is lower than ones at traditional warehouses. The most common complaint was how physically and mentally taxing the gig was, and competition for promotions. “The hours are not so good if you want some type of life,” a Kentucky worker writes. “Long hours on your feet, and an unwritten rule of no talking.” Amazon employees are suing over lost pay they face while waiting in line for security checks.
Average hourly wage: $10.62
Glassdoor rating: 3.5
The Swedish furniture giant gets credit among employees for offering lots of company perks, though none of them appear to be health insurance related. Some found the company stiff and unresponsive, and some felt overworked. “Not always enough people working at times,” one Texas employee wrote.
Average hourly wage: $10.36
Glassdoor rating: 3.3
Employees appreciate the strong culture and camaraderie at Best Buy. But this was the only company we saw where there were specific complaints about oppressive holiday hours. Then again, as one former employee wrote, “If you want to complain about holiday hours, or staying late occasionally, then retail is the wrong business for you. Part time pay sucks, work your tail off, get noticed, pay will jump quickly.”
Average hourly wage: $9.22
Glassdoor rating: 2.8
Walmart actually appears to pay slightly better than its main rival Target — though it has the second-lowest Glassdoor rating of the 10 employers on this list. Employees say the world’s largest retailer is aggressive about scheduling hours in such a way that prevents them from attaining full-time status and triggering more complete benefit — 362 reviewers have complained about this. “Not enough full-time employees or even opportunities to move up to full time,” wrote one New Jersey associate.
Average hourly wage: $9.19
Glassdoor rating: 2.9
Macy’s employees are paid partially on commission and are thus under pressure to meet sales goals. Employees say the company also keeps count of who’s successfully getting customers to open credit cards. “The management's policy is to keep pressuring the customers to open an account until they tell you ‘No’ three times. Ridiculous!” one associate in Virginia wrote.
Average hourly wage: $8.87
Glassdoor rating: 3.1
Target’s pay ranks lower than Walmart’s, but it’s Glassdoor rating is higher — there are a remarkable number of reviews that discuss how floor-level employees really feel like a team. The most substantive complaints mentioned low salary and feeling overworked. “Super random schedule, customers very demanding at times, sometimes working multiple positions in one day, intense lines,” a Washington employee said.
Average hourly wage: $8.49
Glassdoor rating: 3.1
Like those at Macy's, Kohl's employees say they face undue pressure to sell store credit cards to customers. They also seem to be paid among the lowest wages of any large clothing retailer in the country. "Kohl's is essentially a credit card company which also happens to sell clothing," one former employee from Washington wrote.
Average hourly wage: $7.95
Glassdoor rating: 2.5
Apparently a certain solidarity grows among employees who work at Dollar General for one of the lowest retail wages in the country. “Management sucks, pay is horrible, sales associates do majority of the work and get paid close to nothing, VERY stressful and VERY short staffed,” one Georgia-based employee wrote, while adding: “Coworkers were fun.”
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.