More than two-thirds of Kroger workers struggle to afford food, housing or other basic needs due to low wages and part-time work schedules, a report published Tuesday by a Los Angeles-based research group found.
Fourteen percent of Kroger workers are homeless now or have been during the last year, according to the report.
Three-quarters are food insecure, meaning they lack access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life, according to the definition set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's seven times the rate of food insecurity in the general population. Fourteen percent of workers report getting food stamps or food from a food bank or community donation program.
The Economic Roundtable group based its findings on a survey of more than 10,000 workers at Kroger-owned stores in Southern California, Colorado and Washington. The report was commissioned by several locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Adjusting for inflation, wages for the most experienced Kroger food clerks have declined between 11% and 22% across the regions surveyed since 1990, the report found. Kroger is the only employer for 86% of the workers surveyed.
Kroger spokesperson John Votava said Ralphs and Food 4 Less paid average compensation of more than $24 an hour to cover wages, healthcare and retirement benefits, compared with the $18-an-hour average compensation for U.S. retail workers.
In Southern California, Kroger operates more than 200 Food 4 Less and Ralphs locations. Workers, made available for comment by the UFCW union, say their wages and hours are unlivable.
Jeanne Olsen, a service deli employee, takes the bus from her home in La Crescenta to the Ralphs where she works in La Cañada Flintridge. Then, at 9 p.m. after her shift ends, she walks four miles home because she can't afford a car, she said.
Olsen, who is supporting an 18-year-old son, supplements her income through recycling, which earns her an extra $100 to $150 in a good month.
"I pick up every can, every plastic bottle that I find and I have my family, extended family save for me and friends too," Olsen, 59, said. "And I have to devote part of my apartment to that recycling … But without that I would not be able to be eat."