The Washington Post ran a story recently discussing the latest round of retail chain store closings. [For retail, bricks and mortar are crumbling, WP April 6, 2017] Payless Shoe Source has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy and plans to close 400 stores immediately. Macy’s and Sears will vacate 28 million square feet of retail space. Staples hopes to find itself a buyer. The women’s clothing chain Bebe will close 21 stores. The Limited filed for bankruptcy and closed 250 stores. Ralph Lauren will close its Fifth Avenue Polo Store in New York.
Jobs in retail continue to go up but at a rate of increase so slow that its percentage share of America’s establishment jobs keeps dropping year after year. In 1990 retail trade had 12 percent of America’s establishment jobs; by 2017 it is down to 10.9 percent. That may not sound like much but the job total for 2016 would have 1.55 million more jobs if retail was still 12 percent of establishment employment. The slow increase assures that retail trade cannot be a source of replacement jobs for the roughly five million jobs lost in manufacturing where the percentage share of jobs have dropped from 16.2 percent in 1990 to 8.5 percent in 2017.
The Short Term
Retail jobs did relatively well in 2016 with a monthly average increase of 215.3 thousand new jobs and an average growth rate of 1.38 percent for the year, but still below the 1.74 percent national average for establishment jobs. However, 72 percent of the increase came in just four of twelve sub sectors with the increase among those four sub sectors dominated by new jobs in a few high growth industry groups. Motor vehicle and parts dealers added 52.6 thousand jobs with the highest growth rates for recreational vehicle dealers and used car dealers. Used car dealers had a one year growth rate of 5.54 percent; new cars 3.17 percent.
Building material and garden supply stores added 37.6 thousand jobs with the highest growth rates in nursery garden and farm supply stores and outdoor power equipment stores. Nursery garden and farm supply stores had a one year growth of 5.2 percent.
General merchandise stores picked up 39.5 thousand new jobs because warehouse clubs and super centers added 42.7 thousand jobs while department stores and discount department stores lost jobs. Warehouse clubs and super centers had a one year growth rate of 3.04 percent, more than twice the retail average.
Electronic shopping picked up 25.3 thousand new jobs in 2016. Firms like Amazon and other smaller firms doing electronic shopping had a 12.17 percent annual growth rate for 2016.
The total of 155 thousand new retail jobs in just four industries in 2016 leaves 60.3 thousand new jobs for all other retail trade. These other stores include furniture and home furnishings, electronic and appliances, food and beverages, health and personal care, gasoline stations including those with convenience stores, clothing and clothing accessories, sporting goods hobby book and music, florists, office supplies, stationary and gift stores and a few more. All had low or negative growth rates for 2016.
Long term growth rates for retail guarantee retail trade will be a declining share of national employment. The long term growth rate of retail employment measured since 1990 is just .7 percent, well below the national average for establishment jobs. Eight of the twelve sub sectors have growth rates less than one percent. Gasoline stations have a long term growth rate of .06 percent.
More ominous, electronic shopping has the highest growth rate for any retail industry over the 26 year period. It is 6.86 percent. Employment has shot up by more than triple since 2000, and more than doubled again after 2010. In spite of the high growth rate Internet shopping remains a small source of employment with 233.5 thousand jobs in 2016 and a .162 percent share of total national employment. The growth of electronic shopping cuts down on retail employment as you undoubtedly suspect.
Even though retail continues to be a large employer a low growth rate assures that new jobs in retail will be a smaller and smaller share of national employment. Electronic shopping only accelerates the decline. Retail trade can not help be a source of replacement jobs in the future.