An alarming new survey of thousands of grocery workers across three western U.S. states reveals that they suffer from shockingly high rates of poverty. More than three-quarters of the workers meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of “food insecurity,” and 14% say they have been homeless within the past year.
The survey, which was funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and conducted by the nonprofit research group the Economic Roundtable, drew responses from over 10,000 Kroger employees, the country’s largest all-grocery chain. (Kroger also owns Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, and City Market.) Do the workers surveyed live in Southern California, Washington state, or Colorado, and are they all UFCW members? –? indicating that the abysmal conditions reported may actually be better than the average U.S. grocery worker, given that all of those surveyed have at least the minimal protections provided by union contracts.
“Hungry at the Table: White Paper on Grocery Workers at the Kroger Company” is the report’s title.
Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College who co-authored the new report, believes that it is one of the largest independent surveys of retail workers ever performed in the United States. ?“We scoured pretty carefully the terrain of polling and surveys that have been done, and didn’t see anything remotely close,” he says.
Among the survey’s findings:
– Fourteen percent of Kroger workers are now homeless, or have been within the past year. More than one-third say they fear being evicted. Even among full time employees, 15% say that they cannot pay their next rent or mortgage bill.
– The study’s authors calculated that a living wage for Kroger workers would be $22 an hour, working full time?–?about $46,000 per year. But only 35% of the workers surveyed work full time, and the average wage for a Kroger worker is less than $18 per hour, which amounts to less than $30,000 per year. Even workers who have been at Kroger more than 14 years do not make a living wage, averaging under $21 per hour.
– Contrary to public perception, the majority of Kroger workers have some college or post-graduate education. Eighty five percent are high school graduates. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed say they are not fairly compensated for their experience and work, and more than 90% say they will not have enough money for retirement.
– Despite working around food all day, one-quarter of Kroger workers say that they went hungry in the past year because they could not afford food. Fourteen percent say they receive food stamps. Kroger offers employees only a 10% discount on food at the store.
– A quarter of workers say that their work schedule is so unstable that they do not know it more than one day in advance. Unstable work schedules are correlated with other other problems, like food and housing insecurity.
– A majority of Kroger workers say they were faced with customers who refused to wear masks during the pandemic. Only 43% of those who faced ?“disrespectful or threatening” customers say that management intervened to help them in those situations.
Though the survey only covers Kroger employees, it is fair to assume that the problems it describes apply to grocery workers across the U.S. Indeed, the descriptions of poverty and lack of workplace safety and support match what workers at other grocery stores have said repeatedly since the pandemic began.