More than twenty percent of workers employed by Kroger, America’s largest grocery chain, which employs some 460,000 workers and recorded profits of $4.1 billion in 2021, were receiving government assistance, More Perfect Union reported in January 2022. As Jordan Zakarin reported, More Perfect Union received an internal Kroger document, marked “confidential,” that clearly shows Kroger understood that its business practices, including low wages and lack of consistent hours, caused, in the document’s words, “most employees” to live “in poverty and need State Aid as in food stamps, free school lunch, etc. just to get by.”
In its home state of Ohio, Kroger had the third-most employees—behind only Walmart and McDonald’s—on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the federal government’s food-purchasing aid program for people with low- or no-income.
Kroger documents noted that 27 percent of employees who quit their jobs cited poor “pay and hours” or “not enough flexibility in scheduling” as reasons. In 2017, a full-time employee would need to be paid least $15 an hour in Ohio, a state with a lower cost of living than many other states where Kroger operates, to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment. One popular job-search information platform, Indeed, lists many Kroger positions’ average hourly pay rates below $12.11 per hour, including cashier ($9.56/hour), bakery clerk ($10.78), produce clerk ($10.91), and deli clerk ($11.12).
Kroger documents acknowledged that stores with better wages resulted in lower rates of worker turnover. For example, Ralphs, a Kroger-owned grocery store chain, paid five percent above the average part-time market rate for its region and had a 37 percent turnover rate in 2017, whereas Nashville Krogers paid 15 percent below the average part-time market rate in that region and had an 87 percent turnover rate for the same period. An anonymous employee quoted in Kroger’s internal report said, “I literally work at a grocery store and can’t afford to eat regularly.”
A report by the Economic Roundtable, based on a summer 2021 survey of more than 10,000 Kroger employees, demonstrated that Kroger’s impoverishing business practices continue. The survey revealed that more than three-fourths of respondents met the US Department of Agriculture’s criteria for food insecurity. Some 34 percent skipped meals; 14 percent had been homeless in the past year; two-fifths had to borrow money from family or friends to afford basic expenses; and more than two-thirds struggled to afford basic expenses.
During this period, Kroger’s CEO, Rodney McMullen, made 909 times more than the average employee, and, in the third quarter of 2021, Kroger had “$2.28 billion in cash on hand, up from $399 million in early 2020,” Alex Press reported for Jacobin.
Corporate outlets, such as the Washington Post, have covered strikes by Kroger employees, including a January 2022 walk out by 8,400 employees at its Colorado-based supermarket chain, King Soopers. The Economic Roundtable’s report on Kroger was covered by the Los Angeles Times. During a September 2021 Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen told CNBC that “finding talented people” was the company’s biggest challenge, but CNBC’s report focused on the company’s interests and made no mention of Kroger’s low wages for store employees. As of January 16, 2022, no corporate outlets appear to have covered the revelations from internal, confidential Kroger documents regarding the company’s knowledge of its employees’ financial straits.
Jordan Zakarin, “Leaked Memo Reveals Kroger Executives Knew for Years That Most Workers Live In Poverty,” More Perfect Union, January 13, 2022.
Alex Press, “A Horrifying Report Shows the Miserable Working Conditions at Kroger,” Jacobin, January 12, 2022.
Student Researcher: Annie Koruga (Ohlone College)
Faculty Evaluator: Robin Takahashi (Ohlone College)