Roughly 25 million Americans are shift workers with rotating or irregular work schedules. Many of them work in retail, but they also work in food service, personal care, and the service sector.
= 100 people in real life
That’s about the same number of people as the population of Texas.
Rondal works shifts at a grocery store. He’s paid hourly, but his hours fluctuate — so his income, and his free time, are never certain. Week to week, he might not make enough money, or have to drop everything at moment’s notice to work more hours.
One week, for example, a shift worker like Rondal could work 30 hours — and the next week, only 4. Nationwide, weekly work hours fluctuate among shift workers up to 87%.
"It is nearly impossible to make future plans since my schedule changes weekly."
"They expect you to drop everything with a drop of a hat. I have a child so it's hard to find babysitters late notice, or if I do find childcare, they get annoyed because then they have to change their plans. If I can't change my schedule, management becomes nasty and unprofessional."
You may think folks with irregular schedules are only high school or college students, working so that they can get some extra money, or working their first job as they climb the ladder to a 9-to-5.
Shift workers range in age, and many are working as they raise families
. About half
of shift workers have been, or are currently, married.
*See “About the Data” at end of story for more details on findings
"I will make plans to work all weekend, then suddenly they will cut my shifts for the weekend. One, I'm not making any money and two, I don't get to [travel] home and see my family."
And about half of these shift workers have a child at home that they support, which means they have to pay for childcare costs that can skyrocket when they’re unable to plan around an irregular schedule. A third of American parents spend 20% of their income on childcare — surely more as their schedules fluctuate.
64% of parents report that they had to use a sick day when child care plans fell through. For shift workers, that could mean losing a day’s income.
"I’m a single mom to a 2 year old. I have her in a daycare that stays open late even during my closing shifts. Just really exhausting. Sometimes I feel overworked and stressed."
Like many who work normal schedules, shift workers contribute 49% of their families’ total income.
Educational attainment varies among shift workers:
For the shift workers who have attended college, many carry student debt, an average of $4,700, which can become especially burdensome for those struggling to make ends meet on wages under $15/hour.
Insecure scheduling is more volatile for lower-income workers, and those with families often struggle to make ends meet.
People of color experience even higher volatility. 55% of Black workers and 58% of Hispanic workers report that their employers make their schedules without their input.
We met Rondal earlier. Rondal works in a grocery store in the Bronx — here’s his story of making ends meet as he tries to make time for friends and family.
Consumer spending makes up nearly 70% of the GDP in America, and for some retailers, as much as 30% of sales come in during the two months in the holiday season. All told, holiday shopping accounts for $650 billion or more.
Which means huge pressure on retail to perform well in two short months. For the individuals working these jobs, increased holiday hours mean more income...
...but they also mean less time with family, more missed milestones
, and greater instability throughout the year.