Like generations of college students, Caprice Taylor needed a job to help pay her school and living expenses. For the 24-year-old student of fashion merchandise management at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, sales work at a retail clothing shop seemed like a good option.
Taylor was hired last year at Club Monaco, a high-end clothing and apparel retailer owned by Polo Ralph Lauren. But her scheduled shifts at the Manhattan store were not guaranteed. Instead, she was given call-in shifts, which required her to call the store two hours before she was scheduled to arrive to see if she was needed.
Most often, she was not.
For months, Taylor said, she arranged her personal life around work days, waiting in her apartment, only to call in and learn the store wasn’t busy enough. On some weeks, Taylor logged as few as six hours, not earning enough to keep up with her living expenses.
“It puts your day on complete hold,” Taylor said. “It pressures you.”
After four months of unpredictable paychecks, Taylor quit. She later found work at a Polo Ralph Lauren store that does not have on-call shifts. She was lucky to find it. Retail watchers say big-box stores and shopping-mall stalwarts are increasingly hiring workers for on-call shifts, a trend that cuts labor costs for employers, but leaves workers like Taylor struggling to get by.
The clothing and accessory retail industry is a relative bright spot in the moribund jobs market. Yet like Taylor, many workers are finding the jobs unpredictable at best, providing smaller paychecks and less stability than in the past.
From 2002 to 2011, the number of nonsupervisory jobs in the retail clothing industry rose 7 percent to 1.13 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry declined during the recession, but the decline was not as dramatic as for the jobs market as a whole.