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The Best-paying States for Retail Workers in 2021
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In the United States, over 4.3 million people work in retail and earn an average salary of $29,360.1 Unfortunately, that falls 45% below the national average salary of all occupations.
Selling in retail is already stressful, but during the pandemic, workers faced new on-job restrictions, training precautions, and risks. The retail industry suffered from a decrease in consumer spending that left many workers in a precarious position, and many lost their jobs.
To help those in the industry make their next move, we found which states pay retail workers the best, and where they have to work the least to afford rent. (Nationally, retail workers must work 66.7 hours to afford rent.2)
Our rankings may give you a better idea of whether or not you want to keep working in retail where you're living, or if you may need to switch careers to keep up with rent. (We also looked at the best-paying states for nursing, US teachers, and restaurant staff, if you’re curious.)
How does working retail pay where you live compare to the rest of the US?
Which states pay retail workers the best?
South Dakota pays retail workers the best compared to the rest of the nation. Retail workers earn an average salary of $30,620, which is 29% lower than the average salary in the Mount Rushmore State. (Retail workers in the worst-paying states make about 50% or less than other occupations in those states.)
Here’s some good news for retail workers: 32 states pay retail workers better than the national average.
You’ll want to stay more inland to find the highest-paying states, like the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas, and others.
Seven of the ten worst-paying states for retail workers are on the East Coast. New Hampshire and Connecticut also ranked low, coming in at numbers 37 and 38. And coastal California ranked number 42 on our list.
Washington DC technically has the highest average salary for retail workers at $36,520, but is it worth trying to find a job there to make rent? Probably not, as you’ll see below.
- Nearly three out of four small businesses felt a negative impact due to COVID-19.3
- 88% of small businesses experienced shoplifting.
- In 2020, low-wage employment (under $27,000) in the US dropped by 25%.4 Retail workers would be considered low-wage employment in the following states:
- West Virginia
- Middle-wage employment also dropped by 6% in 2020, which includes retail workers in the majority of states.
- Over one-third (36%) of retail workers don’t get paid sick leave.5
In 2021, retail workers face ongoing financial and health-related challenges due to the pandemic.
Will we see additional stimulus relief, health care improvements, or a bounceback in jobs with increased vaccinations?
Where do retail workers have to work the longest to afford their rent?
Retail workers have to work the longest in Hawaii to afford their monthly rent—96 hours. That’s two weeks working full time, plus eight hours of overtime at time and a half. Maryland is a close second with retail workers needing to work 91 hours to afford median rent.
We don’t know about you, but spending over half a month working full-time just to afford rent (before anything else is considered) seems pretty steep to us. But that’s exactly what’s required for retail workers in these seven states:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
DC might have the highest salaries for retail workers, but good luck affording rent and finding a job. The average retail worker would have to sling merchandise for 86.2 hours to pay for rent in the nation’s capital. Washington DC also has the lowest number of retail workers employed.
On top of all that, you’ll be paid nearly 59.3% lower than the average salary in DC—that’s the worst difference in the country.
Where does your state rank for retail pay?
Retail work doesn’t pay high compared to other salaries or the amount of stress working with the public can bring. And the pandemic made the situation even more precarious for a lot of folks.
But if you’re sold on selling, there are plenty of places that pay better than average. You can find the best pay in the country’s center states, but you’ll want to avoid the East Coast and Washington DC.
Here’s the full state-by-state breakdown for retail pay in the USA:
Best-paying states for retail workers
Average salary of retail workers
Average salary of all occupations
Percent less that retail workers earn compared to all other occupations
Hours worked to afford median rent for retail workers
|51||District of Columbia||$36,520||$89,800||-59.30%||86.2|
Using the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we ranked which states pay retail workers the best compared to the average salary in each state. (This includes retail salespersons that sell merchandise to consumers, but excludes cashiers.)
To find out how many hours an average retail worker has to work to afford average rent in each state, we used median contract rent data from the US Census Bureau. This includes all the renter-occupied housing units paying cash rent.
Learn more: Best Business Loans and Financing Options for Retail Businesses 2022
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics - Retail Salespersons,” May 2019. Accessed February 25, 2021.
- US Census Bureau, “ American Community Survey - Median Contract Rent,” Accessed February 25, 2021.
- US Census Bureau, “Small Business Pulse Survey Data,” Accessed February 25, 2021.
- TrackTheRecover.org, “Economic Tracker,” Accessed February 25, 2021.
- Pew Research, “Which US Workers Have Paid Sick Leave?” March 12, 2020.