On Thursday evening, most 20-somethings will be sitting on the couch with family watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and nursing bellies full of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and all the fixings from Thanksgiving.
But some of us aren't so lucky.
For the first time ever, many retail stores open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, with some stores opening earlier. This means that many of my fellow millennial coworkers and I will be missing Thanksgiving this year to help customers seek out those "must need" gifts for the holiday season. Working as a sales associate or a merchandise displayer is a common occupation for young people, according to a study by PayScale and Millennial Branding. Though most millennials in retail have college degrees, we make only $19,300 annually — and our meager paycheck comes at a huge social cost on holidays like Thanksgiving.
I live near a college city, so my retail store employs more millennials than most, meaning that more students and recent graduates won't be able to spend Thanksgiving with their families. For most students, Thanksgiving is a chance to de-stress before the busy exam period; for students who work retail, Thanksgiving means long hours at work. Stores assign out work shifts to associates like me throughout the day to ensure coverage on Black Friday, so any opportunities to visit with high school friends and extended families are missed.
Infographic courtesy of ColorLines.
That's the story for me, at least. Unfortunately, I have to be at my store from 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. I have no chance of coming home during Thanksgiving. I work Wednesday night, Thursday, and then Saturday morning.
As a fellow coworker told me, "This Thanksgiving, instead of spending time talking and relaxing after dinner with a relative who was just diagnosed with lung cancer, I will have to dine and dash so that I can get home to catch some Z's before heading into work."
Of course, one could argue that my coworkers and I chose to take these jobs in the first place, but there are reasons why we did that go beyond personal choice. Getting a job in retail doesn't require the extensive application process and series of interviews that multiple "big people" jobs, as I've denoted them, need. These jobs are seen as temporary means of income while job-seekers search for steadier employment. Many believe it's better to be underemployed than unemployed.
Another fellow coworker said to me, "It is not my choice to work retail at all. I graduated when the economy tanked, and I've been looking for years [for jobs]. So the people saying just find another job have no clue what it's like. I don't get to have a Thanksgiving this year. I'm scheduled in at 6 p.m. that night. This means I can't travel to have dinner with my extended family or with my friend's family two hours away."
"I don't live near my parents anymore and this whole Black Friday culture has taken away the thought of even going home to see them."
Of course, retail workers aren't alone in this. I completely understand that many people — doctors, police people, servicemen and women, nurses, servers, other people working at restaurants, and many more — work during Thanksgiving. I truly appreciate their hard work and dedication to the world and the sacrifices they make for society. Those jobs are needed. But unlike nurses and doctors, the long shifts retail workers have to work in order to open stores on Thanksgiving for Black Friday have been almost a direct result of consumers — which means consumers can change them.
On Thursday, I will be fighting the Black Friday crowds a half hour before the "big sale" hits, preparing myself for a 12-hour shift of helping customers pick televisions, mixers, PS4s, and other sales items. For my sake, and the sake of my fellow co-workers, stay home during Thanksgiving so that next year, younger workers will be able to spend time with their families, too.