Gee & Ursula: Report shows most Kroger grocery workers struggle to afford food

Jan 12, 2022, 10:02 AM
The milk shelf is mostly empty at a giant grocery store on Jan. 11, 2022, in Washington. Shortages at U.S. grocery stores have grown in recent weeks. (AP Photo/Parker Purifoy)
(AP Photo/Parker Purifoy)

A new report shows that more than two-thirds of Kroger grocery workers are struggling to afford food, housing, or other basic needs because of low wages and part-time work schedules.

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The Economic Roundtable report on Kroger workers analyzed the working and living conditions of more than 36,000 grocery store employees in four states, including Washington, across eight Kroger-owned brands. It found that 14% of Kroger workers are homeless or have been homeless in the past year, and 78% are food insecure.

And this isn’t just a Kroger issue, as host Ursula Reutin points out — there is a long list of big companies in the United States that have employees relying on public assistance, including Amazon and Walmart.

So, should people who work at a Kroger grocery store be able to pay their expenses?

“Yes,” host Gee Scott said. “… Last year, in 2021, Kroger’s total company sales were $31.9 billion in the third quarter alone, compared to $29.7 billion for that same period the year before. That doesn’t count fuel. … I also want to point out and remind you guys that Kroger ended its $2 an hour hazard pay raise two months into the pandemic, and opted to close stores in some cities that passed laws mandating hazard pay raises.”

Now, he says, low wages and expiring government assistance has workers struggling to make ends meet.

Gee believes those workers should be paid livable wages. But Ursula asked what that looks like and what a reasonable salary would be for these positions.

“In the city of Seattle, it costs $27 an hour to be able to rent an apartment here in the Seattle area. So how about $25 an hour? How about enough to where, we, the taxpayers, don’t have to subsidize the income for these folks that aren’t making enough?” Gee suggested.

“I scratch my head at why we, as a society, are OK with so many people struggling,” he added.

Ursula said Kroger’s response to the report was that, on average, they are paying more than $24 an hour to cover wages, health care, and retirement benefits, compared with an $18 an hour average for U.S. retail workers.

“There are people who will argue that if you want to have a livable wage, you’re not going to go into these professions,” she said. “But then you also have to look at it and say, well, if you want people to work in these professions, you have to make it a livable wage.”

“The day has come — and the day is here — that employees are not about to sit here and be underpaid,” Gee said.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Gee & Ursula: Report shows most Kroger grocery workers struggle to afford food