There's a lot of commotion right now about the loss of retail jobs and the impending death of retail. While retail isn't dying—channels as foundational as physical stores don't "die"—legacy retailers are struggling. These retailers are going bankrupt and closing stores at a rapid clip. (Our new project Bankrupt Retail is tracking them.) When retailers go bankrupt and close stores, it has real implications on the economy and employment since jobs are getting cut left and right when there are less stores that need workers.
But looking at the loss of retail jobs in isolation is only part of the picture. One also has to look at the growth in fulfillment and transportation jobs, since the internet has fundamentally reshaped how people buy and receive products. As such, the labor needs of the industry are shifting. By looking at these two measures in tandem, one can glean a better picture of the reality of the shifting job market as a result of the changing commerce landscape.
For the last twelve months, the economy added retail jobs until it fell off a bit of a cliff at the beginning of this year. The numbers above are seasonally adjusted, which should compensate for the hiring spree that happens over the holidays every year. It's clear that the first three months of 2017 have not been good for the traditional retail sector. This is only a few months of negative growth, something that we'll have to keep an eye on in the coming months. But losing over 50,000 jobs in two months is not good, even though it's out of 15.8 million retail jobs in the country.
The warehouse and transportation industry, on the other hand, has been growing steadily over the last year. There are about one-third less jobs in this industry than the retail industry (5 million in warehousing versus 15 million in retail), but one can expect these numbers to keep trending upwards. (Remember, the vast majority of sales still take place in stores, not online.) As companies like Amazon and Walmart keep spending to strengthen their infrastructure, and the long tail of smaller businesses catch up, the raw number of jobs in this space should only grow.
Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal reported recently that wages rose 6% for warehouse workers over the last year, driven by the increasing demand for skilled workers. Fulfillment workers are turning into the new sales associates, and the jobs might be even better. The average hourly wage of retail workers as of January, 2017 was $18.01, while the same for warehouse workers was $23.55. Warehouse jobs are proving to be more prosperous for workers than its retail counterparts.
We're very early into this shift, and the economy will only continue to evolve as people's shopping habits do. It's crucial that people look at both real numbers and a holistic set of numbers when they are examining the impact of legacy retail and ecommerce on job growth. The picture isn't so simple, but the trend is clear.