My Life as a Retail Worker: Nasty, Brutish, and Poor

I wish I could say that was the moment things turned around.

In a perfect world, after talking with Jan, I would have ripped off my employee T-shirt, thrown it in Stretch’s face, and strode out of the store.  In reality, it took another month or so before I got the opportunity to leave Sporting Goods Inc. for a temporary job as a communications director for a Capitol Hill nonprofit, a gig that paid twice as much per week as I’d earn in a month at the store. That salary still didn’t come close to my Politico paycheck, though it was a step in the right direction.

When I called Stretch to quit, he wasn’t happy, but he didn’t try and convince me to stay, either, as I’d hoped. He did, however, manage to deliver a dig that all but summed up my time as a retail employee.

“So, your new job,” he said, his irritation coming through the phone as he realized he needed to fill my shift for the week ahead. “They’re hiring you away from here. I guess [you] don’t care about hard work or loyalty.”

Hard work, yes; I certainly did my share working for a store that didn’t seem to value it all that much. I learned, however that loyalty is a malleable concept—and incredibly difficult to find these days, even at $10 an hour.


This story was produced with support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

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Joseph Williams is a writer and veteran political journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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