FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Apple’s American Workforce and the Service Economy

by MATT VIDAL

The New York Times recently published an in-depth article on “Apple’s Retail Army, Long on Loyalty but Short on Pay,” as part of its excellent series on “The iEconomy.” The new article notes that the majority of Apple’s US workforce (30,000 of its 43,000 domestic employees) are not engineers – part of the hailed “creative class” typically associated with the likes of Apple – but hourly retail sales employees.

Last year, the article reports, “each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000.” Yet, many of these employees are paid just $25,000 per year.

The most common definition of low-wage work used in international comparative research is two thirds of the median income. In the US, the median income in 2011 was $34,460. This puts the typical Apple store employee at 73% of the median, making employment in an Apple store effectively a low-wage job.

In noting the changing concept of career in the brave new service economy, the article quotes past ASA president Arne Kalleberg, who states that “In the service sector, companies provide a little bit of training and hope their employees leave after a few years.”

The problem – which the article strongly implies but does not fully tease out – is that many workers in service jobs are not students working part-time while in school, but post-schooling workers facing a bleak job market. And it is not simply a job market grim because of temporary recession, but one that is structurally heavy on low-wage, dead-end jobs.

According to data I have analyzed from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 fully 21% of employment in America was in retail trade and leisure and hospitality industries. The leisure and hospitality industry is clearly a low-wage industry (median wage in 2005 = $18,410), and retail trade (median = $20,480) comes in just slightly above that cutoff, at 70% of the 2005 median ($19,424).

Add to this three more industries slightly above the median – nursing and residential care facilities ($22,350), Social assistance ($21,400), and Administrative and support and waste management and remediation services ($22,610) – and 26% of the entire nonfarm economy consisted of low-wage industries in 2005. Welcome to the new economy.

The article also quotes sociological economist Paul Osterman, who questions whether there is a moral difference between Wal-Mart paying low wages to single mothers versus Apple paying low wages to young men.

The article goes on to discuss the unique situation of Apple, which is able to pay low-wages yet have an extremely loyal workforce because of its “built-in fan base.” But it goes on to note that many of its employees are frustrated at the lack of training and promotion opportunities – lack of an internal labor market – for them. That is, dead-end work.

While some of Apple’s retail workers regarded these as good jobs for young workers, others found them to be both intense and dead-end.

This echoes a larger problem in the American economy: front-line service jobs – retail sales, cooks, nursing aides, janitors and the like – may be good for young workers in school, but many of these jobs are filled by workers out of school, workers who cannot find better jobs with internal labor markets, and who are uncertain about what type of training to get or unable to get such training (e.g. because of family responsibilities).

These problems are commonly ignored in the hype about the new economy and the creative class, as well as in the proposals of liberal economists to fix the economy. It doesn’t matter how much we educate the population if one-quarter of the economy consists of low-wage, often dead-end, servant jobs.

Matt Vidal is Lecturer in Work and Organizations at King’s College London, Department of Management. He is the chief blogger for the blog of the Organizations, Occupations and Work section of the American Sociological Association, where this article first ran. You can follow Matt on Twitter @ChukkerV.

Matt Vidal is Senior Lecturer in Work and Organizations at King’s College London, Department of Management. He is editor-in-chief of Work in Progress, a public sociology blog of American Sociological Association, where this article first ran. You can follow Matt on Twitter @ChukkerV.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 24, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Reflections on DC: Promises and Pitfalls in the Anti-Trump Uprising
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Developer Welfare: Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
Melvin Goodman
Trump at the CIA: the Orwellian World of Alternative Facts
Sam Mitrani – Chad Pearson
A Short History of Liberal Myths and Anti-Labor Politics
Kristine Mattis
Democracy is Not a Team Sport
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Mexico, Neo-Nationalism and the Capitalist World-System
Ted Rall
The Women’s March Was a Dismal Failure and a Hopeful Sign
Norman Pollack
Women’s March: Halt at the Water’s Edge
Pepe Escobar
Will Trump Hop on an American Silk Road?
Franklin Lamb
Trump’s “Syria “Minus Iran” Overture to Putin and Assad May Restore Washington-Damascus Relations
Kenneth R. Culton
Violence By Any Other Name
David Swanson
Why Impeach Donald Trump
Christopher Brauchli
Trump’s Contempt
January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail