Apr 19, 2017

Retail workers are being displaced in droves

After a steep rise following the financial crisis, U.S. retail jobs have been plummeting since the start of the year.

Why this matters: The likely irreversible plunge in these relatively low-wage jobs — $18-an-hour employment for teens, adults, immigrants and senior citizens for generations — primarily affects the working class people whose shrinking opportunities have underpinned populist politics in the U.S. and abroad. And the jobs being created in their stead, in online warehouses for companies like Amazon, are too few to soak up those displaced.

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Our thought bubble: Until now, retail workers — unlike the car-making and coal-mining industries — have made little political splash. Look for that to change.

The numbers: U.S. retail jobs (mainly cashiers and sales people) plummeted by about 60,000 in the first three months of the year, to about 15.85 million, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Reality check: That decline is more than the 53,000 people employed in all aspects of coal mining, including executives and administrative staff, an industry on which President Trump has been fixated.

What they're saying: "The backdrop is that there have been significant layoffs in major retail including department stores," said Mark Muro, of the Brookings Institution. "The department store platform seems to be falling apart."

Why now? The dramatic consumer rush to online shopping. This is reflected in a rise in the number of jobs in Amazon-type jobs, which pay more — an average of about $25 an hour, according to the BLS. But Amazon and the other online merchandizers are rapidly automating, so the number of jobs rose only by 9,300 in the first three months of the year, to about 555,700.

Go deeper

Women outpace men on U.S. payrolls

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Note: Men count was derived by subtracting women count from total; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

There are more women on American payrolls than men as of the latest U.S. jobs report.

Why it matters: The data reflects a hiring boom in industries that are female-dominated, while sectors that are more likely to employ men are lagging in job gains. The last time women overtook men in payrolls was “during a stretch between June 2009 and April 2010,” according to the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the milestone.

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Growing divide between the two Americas

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Life in the U.S. is increasingly divided into two realities — one in which things have almost never been better and another in which it's hard to imagine them being worse.

Driving the news: Bankruptcies led more companies to announce job cuts last year than at any time in more than a decade, WSJ's Aisha Al-Muslim reports (subscription), citing data from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Go deeperArrowJan 3, 2020

The year of the mall makeover

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In 2020, malls are trying to make a comeback — but with a twist.

Why it matters: Over the past few years, experts warned of a retail apocalypse and a massacre of malls that hasn't really happened — at least not the way they said it would. While the retail bastions of the 20th century, like Sears and Macy's, are hurting, America's big malls and shopping centers are still alive and finding new ways to get people through the door.