Americans in 2024: Overworked, Underpaid, and Fed Up

Our bosses make secret algorithms to price gouge us. Any surprise we're angry?

Americans in 2024: Overworked, Underpaid, and Fed Up
Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Working an hourly job can make you feel like a grain of sand on a beach. Just a speck. A tiny fleck. A single number in the line to infinity. The days of an hourly job are full of numbers.

You have an employee number, a social security number, and a date of birth. Corporate tracks your assigned numbers and everything you do.
They track your time. They track your movements.

If you’re a cashier, they track your speed. Same with stocking shelves — tracked. Same with fulfilling orders — tracked. These jobs entail constantly racing against the clock to get the job done fast enough. There’s always more to do; you’ll never finish all of it, and the time clock will be waiting for you tomorrow — tireless, cold, and rigid.

After working as a retail leader for two decades, I know this scenario well. Every day was a race against time. The tasks piled on, growing taller by the minute. Some days, we joked that we’d die under all the shipments of sweaters. Someone would come in and see feet sticking out from under a box.

We laughed.

Some days, I wondered if the giant corporation we worked for realized that we were, in fact, human. Did they forget? Did they care? Did they know we were working as hard as we could?

With my work in the field behind me and today’s headlines in front of me, I'm convinced companies do not care about their employees. All they care about is numbers on a spreadsheet, numbers in their bank accounts, and numbers in the stock market.

They want to rake in the dollars and pay you as little as possible.

Here are some of the most recent headlines.

Retail pharmacists walk out, citing overwork and understaffing

Have you been to a pharmacy in the last twelve months? It’s a disaster. It’s an utter hurricane that retailers like CVS and Walgreens have brought on themselves. A storm of their own making.

Each month, I go to Walgreens to pick up a prescription. I dread it. The pharmacy is so short-staffed it's ridiculous. Two people are working to help a line inside, fill new medications, and help customers in a drive-thru.

What? Two employees.

These people are sprinting for eight hours a day. They never stop. Oh, by the way, they also have to hop out of their tiny plexiglass box now and then to administer vaccines.

Every customer in line is thinking, what the fuck is wrong with this company? Why don’t they hire more people?

Answer: Greed.

Well, pharmacists are fed up, so they organized a walkout in November — “Pharmageddon.”

As demand for vaccines and filling prescriptions increased over the past three years, companies did nothing to support their frontline staff. They pushed them even harder, leading to severe burnout and mistakes.

“There’s constantly this at our backs saying, ‘Fill more, fill more, get those prescriptions out.’ But we’re not able to dedicate that time, much-needed time, for our patients,” — Anandi Law with the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.

These pharmacies don’t care about their employees or even their customers.
Fill more. Fill more. Fill more.

Amazon made $1 billion through a secret price-raising algorithm

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is coming after retailer Amazon for allegedly using an algorithm that pushed up prices in America by more than $1 billion.

Excuse me?

Yes. You read that right. The FTC is suing Amazon for creating a “secret algorithm internally code named ‘Project Nessie’.” Nessie could predict what other online stores would follow Amazon’s price increases.

“After outside retailers began matching or increasing their own prices, Amazon would continue to sell the product at an inflated price, the FTC alleged, which resulted in $1 billion in excess profit.”

So, Amazon doesn’t care about their employees; they don’t care about their customers, and they invented an algorithm to influence the market secretly.
Right. Cool. They hate everyone.

Moving on.

The Typical Retail Worker is a 39-year-old Walmart Stocker in Dallas

Walmart is the largest retailer in the United States. If you work in retail in America, there’s a good chance you work at Walmart. The company’s employee count is up to over 1.5 million.

According to Business Insider’s research, the average Walmart employee is an elder-millennial white woman. Her job will most likely be stocking shelves or picking items for online orders. She probably lives in Dallas, Texas.

Okay, fine. Right. It all makes sense to me, but then the article goes off the rails:

“Some 600,000 people work for Walmart outside the US, and while the worldwide median employee earned $27,136 last year, the typical worker in Texas likely makes a good bit more.”

There is so much wrong with this sentence. However, when I first glanced over it, I didn’t catch it. Reread it. Look at those numbers.

The average annual income for everyone who works for Walmart outside the US is $27,136. Their yearly income is $27,186.

But wait, there’s more.

The author of this article goes on to explain that those employees in Texas “make a good bit more.” The “good bit more” is $18.12/hr. or $33,000 annually.

Way to pay Americans a hefty living wage, Walmart. $18 an hour is not a living wage in this economy. Corporations are convinced we’re still living in the year 2003.

The average median income in Dallas is $65,011. So, this Walmart employee makes half. Walmart should be paying her $31.25/hr to equal that $65k a year. Also, the poverty line in Texas is $29,950 for a family of four.

Walmart made $514 billion in revenue in 2022. The company’s top executives’ salaries equate to about $14,000 an hour.

But right — $33,000 yearly is a "good bit more" than $27,000. Meanwhile, the executives at the company earn $112,000 a day.

"Why don't you work somewhere else?"

Twenty years on a retail floor is a study of the human psyche. After doing that work for half my life, I can quickly tell when people think they’re better than me because they have a title or a corner office.

Twenty years working for major corporations, I know what executives covet most: numbers on a spreadsheet and dollars in their bank accounts.

Retail pharmacists are walking out on the job. They’re being short-staffed on purpose, pushed to the brink, and customers are waiting in long lines. Have you got a new prescription? Good luck getting that filled somewhere nearby. You could always turn to Amazon.

Remember, Amazon stole $1billion from American consumers (allegedly). They created a price-hiking algorithm, Nessie, to influence the markets and increase prices. But I'm sure they’ll handle your new prescription with the utmost care and security.

Here's the part where someone says, "If you don't like it, go somewhere else." Ah, yes. You could go to Walmart. They pay their frontline teams a hefty $18/hr. I’m sure they’d love to fill your prescription from their tiny goldfish bowl-like pharmacist’s box while the time ticks, bosses breathe down their necks, and executives get paid $14,000/hr.

That sounds fair.

The class warfare continues

Here's two numbers that will shock you:

According to the Economic Policy Institute, CEO pay has grown by 1460 percent over the last four decades. According to the AFL-CIO, the folks in charge of our corporations make 272 times more than we do.

Of course, maybe that doesn't surprise you.

Some of us know these numbers all too well. For the last two years, it feels like almost everyone has gone on strike for better wages and working conditions. We cheer for the little wins. Deep down, most Americans probably know how this movie ends. CEOs make unions fight like hell for modest raises, and then a few weeks or months later they get their revenge by raising prices and laying off workers. It's an endless cycle.

This cycle won't stop until someone forces corporations and their legions of CEOs, marketers, bankers, and hedge fund managers to stop stealing from workers. Everyone knows it, but what can we do?

You can count on one thing.

Americans will be carrying all of this anger, frustration, and sense of futility with them everywhere they go, including the polls. Everyone keeps talking about our anger and our mental health crisis. Well, you probably don't want the majority of people feeling like a grain of sand on the beach all the time. Unless you're a CEO, then I guess maybe you do?

We'll see.

Based in Southern California, Kit Campoy is a former retail leader turned freelance writer. She covers Retail, Leadership, and Business.
Join her weekly resistance, The Voice of the Frontline.

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