A female Wal-Mart employee walks through a parking lot as she returns to work at a Wal-Mart store June 23, 2004 in St. Charles, Illinois.
A female Wal-Mart employee walks through a parking lot as she returns to work at a Wal-Mart store June 23, 2004 in St. Charles, Illinois. –

Shaheim Wright’s house is falling apart. It’s infested with bedbugs. The washing machine is broken. He needs a new sink. Oh, and there’s the crack in the bathtub.

“It’s leaking out, and right near my door is a wet spot from water coming down,” Wright said. “And it’s like, well I can’t pay for any of this.”

The house is a big brick duplex with a lawn in Philadelphia. Wright, who is 19, lives there with his mom, his sister, and friends of the family. He pays half the $700 mortgage with his job at PetSmart. He’s a pet care associate (mostly a sales job) making $8.75 an hour. His schedule changes constantly — 10 hours one week, 40 the next — so his paycheck is in flux too.

“It’s always a guessing game,” he said. “It’s always like, well, you know, maybe I’ll be able to pay my bills on time or maybe I’ll be able to, you know, pay half of it.”

Wright wants to be a veterinarian. He started college but dropped out because he couldn’t afford it. Working retail, he often ends up asking his family to borrow money.

“It’s embarrassing, because I don’t want to have to be like, ‘oh well, you know, I’m in that tight space again, could I borrow like a hundred dollars?'” he said. “And not everyone has it.”

Retail workers make up a tenth of the American workforce. The industry includes grocery stores, fast food places, department stores and family-owned shops. A third of the jobs are part time, and on average, workers make $10 to $12 an hour. Workers’ schedules change a lot, and the jobs tend to offer few or no benefits.

That reality can make…