The Employment Crisis You Haven't Heard About

April 15th 2017

Willie Burnley Jr.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that 89,000 U.S. retailer jobs have been lost since October, due in large part because of rapid gains in online sales.

The massive layoffs come at time when official unemployment numbers are low and the economy is post-recovery. In March, U.S. retailers cut around 30,000 jobs for the second consecutive month, highlighting what could be a dramatic shift for the industry.

With roughly one in ten Americans working in retail, according to the latest comprehensive statistics by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the industry represents one of the United States’ largest in terms of employment. If the trend continues, it is unclear what the political and social fallout would be.

As Politico White House reporter Matthew Nussbaum pointed out in the above tweet (responding to the Times piece) the retail industry doesn't get a lot of political attention. During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump held up coal mining and manufacturing as endangered jobs that needed revitalization. The retail industry — again, according to the BLS — employs more Americans than the manufacturing and mining industries combined.

Slate chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie argued on Twitter that this lack of concern was due to the fact that many of these jobs are held by women and people of color, including women of color. In department stores, for example, women make up nearly 60 percent of the industry while people of color make up more than 41 percent of it, according to the BLS.

“The political salience of an industry is tied to how that particular kind of work is raced and gendered,” Bouie said in one tweet.

This year has already seen a decline in the retail industry. Macy’s, the nation’s largest department store chain, announced in January that they would be cutting 10,000 jobs and closing 100 stores amid slow sales. Earlier this month, Payless announced that it would be closing 400 stores and declaring bankruptcy.