© Josh Sager – November 2013
Black Friday is an American phenomenon, where millions of deal-seeking shoppers leave their houses after their Thanksgiving dinners in order to capitalize on special sales that many shops run. It is a purely consumerist phenomenon which kicks off the Christmas shopping season with the largest single shopping day of the entire year.
For most of its existence, Black Friday has started at midnight on Friday and continued on for the entire day—people would rush out at midnight in swarms in order to snap up the most desirable gifts and best deals because these things would be gone later in the day.
Unfortunately, a combination of an economically desperate population and amoral corporate profit-chasing has led to a situation where the Thanksgiving holiday is being eclipsed by Black Friday. Christmas shoppers are desperate for deals because they are in an unstable economic situation and this increased demand has enticed corporations into opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day.
Working on Thanksgiving
Huge numbers of Americans workers’ Thanksgivings were cut short in 2013 when their employers forced them to work. Large retailers, including but not limited to, Walmart, Staples, Best Buy, Old Navy, Toys R Us, Target, Macys, Kohl’s, and J.C. Penny forced their workers to open stores as early as 6AM on Thanksgiving morning for the impending Black Friday shopping rush. While the exact number of workers affected is not yet known, it is easily in the millions—Walmart alone forced approximately 1 million Americans to work on Thanksgiving evening.
In addition to retailers, many restaurant chains (ex. Pizza Hut) forced their employees to work on Thanksgiving.
The move by corporations to open earlier for Black Friday not only affects workers, but also their families. A ripple effect begins with the workers and reverberates through family networks, depriving people of the traditional Thanksgiving family dinner with their Parent/child/Uncle/etc.
The creep of Black Friday into Thanksgiving is by no means an entirely new phenomenon (ex. Old Navy has been forcing its employees to work on Thanksgiving since 2009), but it has gotten far worse in recent years.
Black Friday and Economic Desperation
In my opinion, the Black Friday shopping creep is largely due to an increased desperation in the American public for ways to save money. Corporations are reacting to consumers’ increased need for sale prices with the rational and amoral tactic of securing more labor and opening earlier—they couldn’t care less that workers might desire a holiday with their families, because they only see the potential for dramatically increased sales.
As demonstrated in the Mother Jones graph, big retailers’ push to expand Black Friday began to accelerate during 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis. After the crash, people had far less disposable income (or ability to sustain debt), thus the blowout sales which only happen during Black Friday became a virtual requirement for many people to sustain the same levels of holiday gifting that they are accustomed to.
In a way, I see the corporate expansion of Black Friday and the insanity of those who attend the sales as barometers of the general health of the economy. People don’t leave their homes after Thanksgiving in order to fight with strangers over discounted towels (towel sets were a top seller in 2013)—while risking getting stabbed, tazed, or even shot by other shoppers—if there is an economically viable alternative. If the economy were doing better and Americans were getting paid a living wage, then they would be more secure in their ability to buy presents and would have less of a desire to brave the Black Friday mobs.
Economic desperation not only affects the consumer side of the Black Friday creep, but also the employee side. Employers like Walmart are secure in their ability to compel workers to work on Thanksgiving because they know that workers are desperate to keep their jobs.
A sign posted in a Kmart break room
While losing a family dinner during a holiday could be looked at as trivial in the grand scheme of things, it is indicative of an extremely unfair pattern—corporations are exploiting the desperation of American consumers and employees in order to turn a huge profit. They are trampling on the lives of the workers if it makes them a couple of dollars more in profit and there is little that that workers can do to fight back.
Ultimately, I would ask every American to consider the recent actions of large retailers when shopping and choose to support businesses that don’t force employees to leave their Thanksgiving dinners. There are plenty of local stores to choose from and, if that isn’t an option, there are still some large retailers (ex. Costco) which have good corporate citizenship.