More than half a decade on, we’re still missing 976,000 jobs — and we’re missing 12 million jobs if you figure that jobs should grow as the population grows.
But it’s one thing to be economically afraid. It’s another to be cut off from fully celebrating America’s all-race, all-religion family holiday because you and your fellow Americans are fearful economically.
That’s what’s happening to millions of retail workers who’ve had to work on Thanksgiving for the past half-decade.
Stores aren’t opening on Thanksgiving because they’re doing well. Just the opposite: They’ll open because they’re not doing well.
And that’s because their customers aren’t doing well.
Consider: Walmart starts “Black Friday” at 6 p.m. on Thursday, pushed from 8 p.m. last year. Though it’s long offered drugstore-style round-the-clock hours at some stores, the company has grown markedly more aggressive since 2008, with Black Friday promotions on Thanksgiving Day.
And what Walmart (with its 150 million customers) does, other stores imitate.
Howard Davidowitz, chairman of the Davidowitz & Associates retail consultancy, calls it a “war-zone” retail mentality. The reason: Retail sales have recovered — but that recovery mirrors what’s going on in the economy. “The top 10 percent do 40 percent of the spending,” notes Davidowitz.
The top 10 percent are doing fine — so Tiffany and Saks are doing OK. What about everyone else?
Sales at Walmart’s US stores have fallen for much of the past year.
Before 2008, people could take money out of the rising value of their homes to pay for shopping, says Robert E. Schulz, a retail analyst at Standard & Poor’s. Today, people will buy a car if they need one, but they won’t buy a closetful of cheap clothes.
Discerning shoppers mean desperate retailers.
Other retailers “being open on Thanksgiving is almost inevitable, given what we’ve been seeing,” said Kristina Koltunicki, also of Standard & Poor’s. Plus, this year’s Christmas shopping season is one weekend shorter than usual.
But why should being open on Thanksgiving help?
Behavioral economics. Get people in for a “one-time only” deal, and even if “doorbuster” stuff is gone early, they’ll buy something to justify the time wasted.
This “doesn’t make any sense for anybody,” says Davidowitz. The stuff on sale now will be even cheaper in a few weeks.
And wealthier consumers know that. Davidowitz says the top 10 percent are “definitely not out there” on Thanksgiving. (The exception may be the foreigners who pour into Manhattan, but they can wait a day.)
There’s nothing wrong with marketing ploys. But there is something wrong with preying on people’s impulses to the extent that they are sacrificing time with their families for one day that shouldn’t be commercialized. Time is the real gift.
And it’s worst for people who are in the stores involuntarily.
Sure, firefighters and police officers have always had to work on the holiday. But they make good pay. Plus, saving someone’s life is different than selling someone a LeapPad2. (And yes, restaurant and hotel workers toil, too — but that’s no reason to make more people work than necessary.)
Some stores do stay closed — and their employees appreciate it.
Rob Petrella, the store manager at a PC Richard & Son in Manhattan, says this is “the one day out of the year I see everyone in my family.”
This year, he’s looking forward to seeing an aunt he hasn’t seen in several years — because she’s been working at Walmart.
Omotayo Riley, who works in sales at the same store, notes that with the day off, he’ll “go to my mom’s house and my wife’s mom’s house.” He’ll enjoy his mom’s cooking, and his mom can enjoy her nearly 2-year-old granddaughter and the toddler’s teenage sister. It would be “just terrible” to work, he says.
Gregg Richard, the PC Richard CEO, says that his firm has been running an ad noting their closure for 18 years. But people have only started noticing in the past few years — as more and more stores either open or lose sales to Walmart or to online-only retailers. “We feel it is a family day for our 3,000 employees,” he says.
It’s shoppers, not the government, who should force stores to close.
If you’re tempted to skip pie to go buy a cheap tablet, remember that the tablet will be obsolete by next Christmas — and your kids, too, will be a year closer to being grown up.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal & The New York Post