Go ahead and shop on Thanksgiving: The US economy is counting on you

There was a line at a Kmart in Chicago this morning.
There was a line at a Kmart in Chicago this morning.
Image: AP Photos/John Konstantaras for Kmart
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Really, it’s okay to go to Kohl’s or Macy’s, Target or Walmart, today. We’re Americans: We shop, we work, we are.

That’s why the outcry over more retailers deciding to open today is surprising. Before you sign a petition or post a Facebook status of outrage, remember the following:

The entire US economy relies on holiday shopping.

Household consumption, from washing machines to the boxer shorts within, make up nearly three-quarters of US GDP. For retailers, holiday sales represent anywhere from 20-40% of total revenues. The month of December yields 10% of state coffers’ total haul from sales taxes; other months are more like 7 or 8%.

You can disagree with America’s over-dependence on consumption—but it is very much a reality.

The clock is ticking

Retailers contend with six fewer days of holiday shopping this year because Thanksgiving falls so late on the calendar. They need to make it up for that potential loss however they can. Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation predicts that sales will only rise 3.9% compared to last year; that’s much less than the 5% increases of the last two years.

Good ol’ American work ethic

Some countries actually embrace the US system of more work, less pay. Multinationals especially deal with large variances in different countries’ holiday calendars. Their solution often is to offer a more liberal number of personal days so employees can pick and choose the holidays of importance to them. In countries such as India—which, like the United States, has a polyglot of faiths and cultures across its workforce—some state governments have been trying to limit the number of official holidays. A report by the New Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society concludes:

Too many holidays have a negative effect on output. ….The adjustment of the quantum of holidays according to industry if not firm may be more efficient than a ‘one size fits all’ system. … different departments have different work-loads which peak and trough at different times in the year calling for holidays to be tailored to those schedules. … Also public holidays or common holidays lead to a clogging of the transport and tourism infrastructure. This recently induced China to rethink its system of giving weeklong holidays called ‘golden weeks’ in favour of more evenly distributed public holidays.

Retail workers need the money

Many workers volunteer to take the holiday shift, earning up to double time on their usual meager wages. Save your ire for the bosses who aren’t offering the option. The Huffington Post reports a sign at Kmart, open for a marathon 41 hours beginning at 6am today, “No requests off will be accepted for the following holiday dates…” with the days around Thanksgiving and Christmas listed; the retailer will be closed on the latter…for now.

They’re in good company

Retailers aren’t the only ones. Hotels, hospitals, gas stations, convenience stories, restaurants, firehouses, police stations, and, yes, newsrooms always have been open on Thanksgiving and other holidays. In fact, as I type these words, I am just wrapping up my shift… Working on Thanksgiving is a very small price to pay for the fairly comfortable life my employer makes possible. And so as an expression of gratitude, I volunteered.