Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Amazon Effect on Jobs

The Amazon Effect on Jobs

Media coverage of the Amazon expansion keeps suggesting their growth comes at the expense of brick and mortar retail stores. The employment data suggests Amazon contributes to a decline in retail jobs that derives from more causes and long term trends.

Back in 1990 the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported electronic shopping and electronic auctions employed a monthly average of 40.4 thousand people while 112.5 thousand worked at mail order houses. By 2016 the BLS reported 233.5 thousand employed in electronic shopping and electronic auctions, but mail order houses showed only a small increase to 127.5 thousand jobs.

As Internet access expanded to millions, the difference between the two categories faded as mail order houses doing catalog sales started using the Internet to compete. In response the BLS combined the two series after 2016. Combined employment since 1990 has an annual growth rate of 3.34 percent, more than triple the national average. The monthly average employment for 2018 came to 398.7 thousand jobs.

While the employment totals in retail trade continue to increase, jobs go up so slowly that the share of retail employment in national establishment employment declined year by year since 1990. In 1990 retail was 12.04 percent while in 2018 it was 10.62 percent. It may sound small but if retail employment retained its 1990 share in 2018, retail employment would have 2.114 million more jobs than it does.

Retail sub sectors in motor vehicle and parts dealers, furniture and home furnishing stores, electronic and appliance stores, food and beverage stores, health and personal care stores, gasoline stations, clothing and clothing accessories stores, sporting goods hobby book and music stores, general merchandise stores, office, supplies, stationery and gift stores all have a smaller share of jobs in 2018 than 1990, and smaller shares in 2018 than 2017.

In addition to electronic shopping a few other retail sub sectors have job growth that standout from the general decline. Home centers are a sub sector exception, which has a higher share of establishment employment with annual job growth of 2.89 percent since 1990. The Home Center job increase has come at the expense of job declines at paint-wallpaper stores, and hardware stores.

Employment at used car dealers has increased at nearly five times the annual growth rate for new cars since 1990: new cars .74 percent, used cars 3.59 percent. Jobs at cosmetic and beauty supply stores increased at a growth rate more than 7 times the rate for pharmacy and drug stores: .53 percent compared to 3.72 percent. Stores selling used goods such as thrift stores and consignment stores have the second highest annual rate of job growth in retail, 4.19 percent; only the electronic shopping that includes Amazon has higher job growth. Pet stores also have a high rate of job growth since 1990: 3.53 percent. These jobs combined have only 8.5 percent of 2018 retail employment, and .9 percent of national employment.
The following retail sub sectors all lost jobs from 2017 to 2018: household appliance stores, electronics stores, pharmacy and drug stores, clothing stores, shoe stores, sporting goods stores, hobby toy and game stores, sewing needle work and piece work stores, music instruments and supply stores, book periodical and music stores, department stores, warehouse clubs and super centers, office supply and stationery stores, gift, novelty and souvenir stores.

The electronic shopping total of 398.7 thousand jobs in 2018 represents 2.5 percent of retail trade employment compared to 2010 when 249.8 thousand jobs were 1.6 percent of retail jobs, a mere .9 percent gain for electronic shopping. Since the end of the last recession in early 2010, electronic shopping has added only 148.9 thousand jobs, not many jobs to replace the 2.114 million jobs there would be without such a low, average growth in retail trade. The Amazon effect is a part of the loss of retail jobs, but the expansion of electronic shopping will bring a net loss of jobs in retail and the economy.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Planet of the Humans – A Review

Planet of the Humans – A Review
Director Jeff Gibbs; producer Ozzie Zehner

Planet of the Humans is a documentary film just released at the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF). The film makes two clear points. First it argues and validates the alarming growth of CO2 emissions, which continues while the country does nothing of significance to counter it. Second, the film argues the environmental movement has accepted large sums of money from the energy industry and now panders to them in their obsession with growth and profit.

The film focuses on the development of solar, wind, and bio-mass energy, and the public perception these efforts work well as alternatives to burning coal in the generation of heat and power. Viewers learn quickly these fuels generate a tiny share of power needs in the U.S. and elsewhere. We learn to doubt these alternative fuels can make a significant dent in the growth of CO2 emissions without limiting our use of fossil fuels. As one example, we meet a scientist who explains solar energy needs solar chips made from quartz and coal, requiring great sums of fossil fuel burning heat to produce, and they do not last indefinitely. We see large rectangular spaces filled with solar panels and learn they provide a year’s worth of energy for ten houses. We learn coal-burning energy must continue as a back up to cloudy days.

The filmmakers use much the same method for wind power and bio-mass. For wind we go to Lowell Mountain along the Long Trail in north central Vermont, where the now denuded ridge of the mountain has 450 foot windmill towers lined up in a row. We tend to forget constructing, installing and maintaining these towers uses great quantities of fossil fuel for creating an intermittent and indeterminate power source. Here we meet people distressed at the destruction of the forest and disruption of the solitude the Long Trail should represent.

Bio-mass advocates justify clear-cutting vast stretches of forested land with the excuse trees regenerate, except the camera gives a panorama of the worst of environmental destruction in the film with vast stretches of barren ground and not a sign of any living thing. In the village of L’Anse in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula we meet a woman distressed at the air pollution their bio-mass plant creates from burning chips made of old car tires. Management claims they need these hotter burning chips. We realize reducing coal consumption does not necessarily clean up the air.

The filmmakers cut back and forth from depressed and depressing locations around the country to corporate public relations events pitching their subsidized alternative fuel projects as the way to end our CO2 emissions worries. Two events covered in the film had outdoor concerts powered with solar panels, except the filmmakers went behind the tents and found the electricians managing the generators; they admitted solar power would not be enough. We attend an event promoting electric cars where General Motors CEO Mary Barra could not confirm savings on CO2 emissions for cars using coal powered electricity; she smiled awkwardly in her failure to do so.

Clips from these events and some separate interviews establish the sell-out of the Sierra Club and other groups we associate with environmental protection. We meet smiling white men - except one black man and Mary Barra – reading canned speeches and announcing dollars of investments in alternative fuels, but they stumble and fumble badly when confronted with conflicting questions. None wanted to address the conflict of environmental destruction their projects cause, or the few jobs they create, or their tiny effect on CO2. Mr. Inconvenient Truth himself, Al Gore, looked especially pathetic evading questions; while he evaded and avoided the film documented corporate payments to him and others as “paid consultants.” Money has transformed Gore into another member of America’s bloated gang of corporate rogues and scoundrels.

The film tells the story from what we see on the screen, as documentary films should do. The film editors cut from one place, and one scene, to another quickly, but sporadically leave a short interval with a blank screen as though we might need a few seconds to rest from their fast pace. Dialogue emphasizes scientists offering science explanations, interviews from on site victims and a sampling of corporate public relations. Viewers will not think filmmakers remain neutral in this debate, but they avoid preaching and stay in the background for the most part. In contrast we find the Koch brother owners of Georgia-Pacific sponsoring a website, an especially cynical move by people with contempt for the intelligence and welfare of the larger society.

The only discussion of data for CO2 emissions comes from the numbers 350 and 416. I learned 350 stands for parts per million of carbon dioxide, a number formerly billed as an upper limit goal for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As of now, we learn the number is 416 just in case anyone doubts our collective failure to address global warning. Enough said.