Apple Store workers earn about the same as other retail workers

The New York Times is shocked at the travesty of paying workers well above the minimum wage and competing stores.

The New York Times continues its iEconomy series of in-depth reporting on the largest company in America, with an examination of what it's like to work in an Apple Store:

Last year, during his best three-month stretch, Jordan Golson sold about $750,000 worth of computers and gadgets at the Apple Store in Salem, N.H. It was a performance that might have called for a bottle of Champagne — if that were a luxury Mr. Golson could have afforded.

"I was earning $11.25 an hour," he said. "Part of me was thinking, 'This is great. I’m an Apple fan, the store is doing really well.' But when you look at the amount of money the company is making and then you look at your paycheck, it’s kind of tough."

David Segal, the article's author, is keen to contextualise the wage in terms, not just of the value of goods sold by the employees, but of how much the company earns overall:

Apple is not selling polo shirts or yoga pants. Divide revenue by total number of employees and you find that last year, each Apple store employee — that includes non-sales staff like technicians and people stocking shelves — brought in $473,000.

In fact, this article, as with the cross-national McWages Index we wrote about on Friday, just serves to illustrate a key point of labour economics: wages have just as much to do with every company the employee doesn't work for as the one they do. Apple offers above average pay, far outstripping the US minimum wage and beating clothes retailer Gap, but offering less than Lululemon, a yogo apparel chain.

Apple also offers strong benefits, important in the safety-net-free American economy, with health care, pensions, and discounts on stock purchases all provided to employees. 

The problem the employees have is that very little of the astonishingly high revenue per employee – comparable with sales in consulting, rather than retail, according to Asymco's Horace Dediu – is due to them. Apple is a hugely profitable company, which has more or less monopolised the high-end of at least three seperate consumer goods markets. It's as though BMW were not only the number one luxury car manufacturer, but also the number one motorbike and bicycle producer. As Slate's Matt Yglesias writes:

The converse of Apple Store workers not being rich despite the company's success is that Sears & K-Mart workers don't earn negative wages even though their company loses money.

Even if Apple wanted the best retail employees in the world, they would only have to pay a bit more than the company which is happy having the second best retail employees. And, judging by appearences, they don't. They are happy to have employees at much the same level as other high-end, but ultimately consumer-grade, companies.

And while they receive merely comparable relative incomes, the absolute income of an Apple Store employee is high enough that, as Yglesias adds, we should wish that everyone earns the same:

The really urgent question isn't why aren't Apple Store jobs better, but why are so many jobs worse than this?

Apple Store employees dance in Rome

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear