A clerk (/klɑːrk/ or /klɜːrk/) is a white-collar worker who conducts general office tasks, or a worker who performs similar sales-related tasks in a retail environment (a retail clerk). The responsibilities of clerical workers commonly include record keeping, filing, staffing service counters, screening solicitors, and other administrative tasks.[1]

History and etymology

The word clerk is derived from the Latin clericus meaning "cleric" or "clergyman", which is the latinisation of the Greek κληρικός (klērikos) from a word meaning a "lot" (in the sense of drawing lots) and hence an "apportionment" or "area of land".[2][3]

The association derived from mediaeval courts, where writing was mainly entrusted to clergy because most laymen could not read. In this context, the word clerk meant "scholar". Even today, the term clerk regular designates a type of cleric (one living life according to a rule). The cognate terms in some languages, e.g., Klerk in Dutch, became - at the end of the nineteenth century - restricted to a specific, fairly low rank in the administrative hierarchy.

United States

Clerical workers are perhaps the largest occupational group in the United States. In 2004, there were 3.1 million general office clerks,[4] 1.5 million office administrative supervisors and 4.1 million secretaries.[5] Clerical occupations often do not require a college degree, though some college education or 1 to 2 years in vocational programs are common qualifications. Familiarity with office equipment and certain software programs is also often required. Employers may provide clerical training.[6] The median salary for clerks is $23,000, while the national median income for workers age 25 or older is $33,000.[7] Median salaries ranged from $22,770 for general office clerks to $34,970 for secretaries and $41,030 for administrative supervisors. Clerical workers are considered working class by American sociologists such as William Thompson, Joseph Hickey or James Henslin as they perform highly routinized tasks with relatively little autonomy.[8] Sociologist Dennis Gilbert, argues that the white and blue collar divide has shifted to a divide between professionals, including some semi-professionals, and routinized white collar workers.[9] White collar office supervisors may be considered lower middle class with some secretaries being located in that part of the socio-economic strata where the working and middle classes overlap.

Traditionally clerical positions have been held almost exclusively by women. Even today, the vast majority of clerical workers in the US continue to be female. As with other predominantly female positions, clerical occupations were, and to some extent continue to be, assigned relatively low prestige on a sexist basis.[10] The term pink-collar worker is often used to describe predominantly female white collar positions.

Clerical workers and unions

Due to the majority of clerical positions being held by women, the sector is largely un-unionized.[11] With the decline of the industrial sector and the rise of white-collar jobs, the labor movement needed to tap into this large pool of potential members in order to sustain the movement. Much debate exists as to what strategies to adopt when organizing female clerical workers. Part of the issue is that many female clerks do not wish to pay their dues. Some claim that focusing on gender sensitive issues would be the most effective route, since women tend to shy away from the male-dominated unions.[12] Others argue that women are just as militant as men when it comes to getting grievances heard, such as the willingness of female employees of a Wisconsin insurance company to fight against management's discriminatory practices.[13] Still others contend that the problem does not lie with the tactics used to “sell” the union to the workers, but in developing “leadership from among the workers and train[ing] them to organize their fellow workers.”[14]

See also


  1. "Merriam Webster, definition of clerical worker". Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  2. Clerk, Online Etymology Dictionary
  3. Klerikos, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, "A Greek-English Lexicon", at Perseus
  4. "US Department of Labor, General office clerks". Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  5. "US Department of Labor, Secretaries and administrative assistants". Retrieved 2006-06-07.
  6. "US Department of Labor, training of secretaries". Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  7. "U.S. Census Bureau, personal income distribution, age 25+, 2006". Archived from the original on 2007-03-19. Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  8. Thompson, William; Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN 0-205-41365-X.
  9. Gilbert, Dennis (1998). The American Class Structure. New York: Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 0-534-50520-1.
  10. Williams, Brian; Stacey C. Sawyer; Carl M. Wahlstrom (2005). Marriages, Families & Intimate Relationships. Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN 0-205-36674-0.
  11. Hurd 1993, p. 316
  12. Hurd, Richard. "Organizing and Representing Clerical Workers." Women and Unions: Forging a Partnership. Ed. Dorothy Sue Cobble. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, 1993. p. 318.
  13. Hurd 1993, p. 318
  14. Govea, Jessica. "Comments." Women and Unions: Forging a Partnership. Ed. Dorothy Sue Cobble. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, 1993. p. 342.
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