Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Apple’s American Workforce and the Service Economy


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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases