Retailers Worry Over Depressed Wages, Job Losses As the back-to-school shopping season approaches, retailers hope shoppers can afford to buy lots of backpacks and jeans. But reports show most shoppers are still watching their pennies, and the biggest back-to-school shoppers -- teenagers -- are having trouble finding work.
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Retailers Worry Over Depressed Wages, Job Losses

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Retailers Worry Over Depressed Wages, Job Losses

Retailers Worry Over Depressed Wages, Job Losses

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Here to discuss the outlook is NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax. Welcome back, Marilyn.

MARILYN GEEWAX: Hey, hi, Liane.

HANSEN: Well, before we talk about spending money at the store, we should talk about earning money on the job. What were those dismal reports that were issued on Friday?

GEEWAX: The latest government statistics show that employers actually are spending more on their workers. Unfortunately, that's because they're paying more to provide pretty much the same level of health care benefits. So, employers are feeling squeezed by their rising labor costs, and the workers are feeling squeezed because they aren't getting raises. And that's just not an environment that leads people to feel like splurging on a shopping spree.

HANSEN: So, what's happening in the stores this summer? I mean, are there sales? Are they depressed?

GEEWAX: Retailers were actually hoping for a bigger bounce back from last year's deep lows. And earlier this year, they thought they were seeing signs of that. Consumers were starting to spend a little more. But now, economists say that when they look at the most recent sales data, they see people are really watching their pennies.

HANSEN: Well, parents may not be in the mood to splurge, but wouldn't some incoming high school seniors or college freshmen have their own money for clothes?

GEEWAX: And some of the chains, like Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle Outfitters, they've been slashing the prices on their jeans. So, they're pushing hard.

HANSEN: I know we're in August. Maybe I just want to get cool after all this heat but, you know, it is still hard to think about Christmas shopping, but retailers are thinking about the Christmas shopping season. Any idea on the outlook?

GEEWAX: But the truth is, not matter what decorations you put up, you are not going to get a recovery, either in wages, in retail sales, in the housing market - none of that's really going to come back until we see much better job growth.

HANSEN: NPR senior business editor Marilyn Geewax. Thanks a lot, Marilyn.

GEEWAX: Oh, you're welcome, Liane.

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