Fact: Retail trade is the third-largest sector in the US, by total employment. Also a fact: Retail trade offers the second-lowest annual average earnings in the US, ahead of only accommodation and food services.
As a sector, retail doesn’t attract as much attention in the national media as manufacturing or government. But The Atlantic and Bloomberg Businessweek wrote extensively Friday about the state of retail, painting not-so-encouraging portraits. The Atlantic’s article — by Derek Thompson and titled “The End of Retail: Why the Future of Shopping Doesn’t Need Workers” — is particularly enlightening. Thompson writes that since 2007:
Health care jobs grew by almost 50%. Professional/business services — a catch-all that includes such wide-ranging jobs as law, software engineering, and waste management — rode the roller-coaster of two recessions and wound up 4 million jobs bigger. And then there’s retail. In 15 years, retail added only 400,000 new workers, or 26,000 jobs a year. In the time that health/education jobs grew by 50%, retail grew by 0.2%.
Thompson argues that, with the proliferation of online shopping and the growth of Amazon, “we’ll need a declining number of people stocking a smaller and smaller number of stores.” That very well could be the case, and the drop in retail jobs since 2007 — after a four-year boom — has been striking. It’s lost more than 900,000 jobs since ’07, a nearly 6% decline.
But like in any discussion on labor markets, it’s helpful to investigate the performance of subsectors that make up a supersector. And this is where a different picture comes into focus.
Jobs That Aren’t Going Away
The three largest retail subsectors — supermarkets, department stores, and warehouse clubs/supercenters — accounted for nearly five million jobs in 2011. That’s 34% of the entire supersector. Now, department store employment has declined 15% since 2001, almost on par with new car dealers (-17%) and better than furniture stores (-24%). But what about supermarkets and warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club that sell bulk food (as well as clothes, tech products, and almost everything else you can think of)?
Supermarket jobs have been mostly stagnant — there’s been slight decline but the sub-sector’s 2011 employment number (2.34 million) is close to the same as it was in 2001 (2.39 million). Warehouse clubs, on the other hand, have exploded, growing 53% since 2001. They even added jobs from 2008 to 2009, with the recession raging, before declining 3% in the last few years.
The relative steadiness of supermarket employment and rapid growth of warehouse clubs point to a simple reality. Consumers still have to do some shopping at actual stores that employ actual workers. And while an online grocery store that ships food to people’s doorsteps might become wildly popular at some point, that point hasn’t come yet.
If you’re curious, here’s how each five-digit retail subsector performed from 2001 to 2011. In all, 21 subsectors added jobs (warehouse clubs topping the list) and 40 lost jobs (CD and record stores at the bottom, on a percentage basis).
Note that the second-most jobs added since 2001, outside warehouse clubs, came at home centers, a subsector made up of hardware stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot, etc. Home centers added more than 135,000 jobs, a 28% increase.
|NAICS Code||Name||2001 Jobs||2011 Jobs||10 Year Growth||% Growth||2011 Average Earnings|
|Source: EMSI Covered Employmet - 2011.4|
|44511||Supermarkets and Other Grocery (except Convenience) Stores||2,387,887||2,339,396||-48,491||-2%||$22,659|
|45291||Warehouse Clubs and Supercenters||749,280||1,144,796||395,516||53%||$24,559|
|44111||New Car Dealers||1,118,633||923,558||-195,075||-17%||$49,281|
|44711||Gasoline Stations with Convenience Stores||774,978||721,204||-53,774||-7%||$18,298|
|44611||Pharmacies and Drug Stores||688,801||704,603||15,802||2%||$36,499|
|44814||Family Clothing Stores||431,205||500,070||68,865||16%||$15,693|
|44311||Appliance, Television, and Other Electronics Stores||331,609||386,322||54,713||16%||$33,366|
|45299||All Other General Merchandise Stores||308,532||347,737||39,205||13%||$17,629|
|44131||Automotive Parts and Accessories Stores||332,991||333,186||195||0%||$27,815|
|44812||Women's Clothing Stores||242,083||293,566||51,483||21%||$17,125|
|45411||Electronic Shopping and Mail-Order Houses||240,378||244,361||3,983||2%||$50,471|
|45111||Sporting Goods Stores||208,097||237,661||29,564||14%||$20,554|
|44419||Other Building Material Dealers||278,704||204,539||-74,165||-27%||$42,621|
|45322||Gift, Novelty, and Souvenir Stores||260,643||165,998||-94,645||-36%||$17,371|
|44229||Other Home Furnishings Stores||154,644||153,757||-887||-1%||$22,191|
|45112||Hobby, Toy, and Game Stores||143,667||151,731||8,064||6%||$15,633|
|45321||Office Supplies and Stationery Stores||197,197||145,490||-51,707||-26%||$30,608|
|45399||All Other Miscellaneous Store Retailers||165,596||140,489||-25,107||-15%||$28,192|
|44531||Beer, Wine, and Liquor Stores||141,116||138,461||-2,655||-2%||$21,828|
|45331||Used Merchandise Stores||105,996||127,792||21,796||21%||$19,212|
|44112||Used Car Dealers||109,943||118,389||8,446||8%||$36,688|
|45121||Book Stores and News Dealers||164,628||117,752||-46,876||-28%||$18,162|
|44819||Other Clothing Stores||115,076||117,163||2,087||2%||$19,164|
|44529||Other Specialty Food Stores||151,243||115,330||-35,913||-24%||$22,499|
|44312||Computer and Software Stores||203,486||108,179||-95,307||-47%||$70,677|
|44612||Cosmetics, Beauty Supplies, and Perfume Stores||92,927||107,796||14,869||16%||$24,299|
|44422||Nursery, Garden Center, and Farm Supply Stores||124,248||101,332||-22,916||-18%||$26,285|
|44122||Motorcycle, Boat, and Other Motor Vehicle Dealers||104,185||100,526||-3,659||-4%||$35,538|
|45391||Pet and Pet Supplies Stores||74,752||100,324||25,572||34%||$20,122|
|44719||Other Gasoline Stations||146,073||99,737||-46,336||-32%||$22,762|
|44619||Other Health and Personal Care Stores||93,683||99,265||5,582||6%||$37,794|
|44813||Children's and Infants' Clothing Stores||57,796||76,129||18,333||32%||$14,287|
|44221||Floor Covering Stores||101,969||66,872||-35,097||-34%||$39,227|
|44613||Optical Goods Stores||66,490||63,604||-2,886||-4%||$30,403|
|44815||Clothing Accessories Stores||39,164||57,452||18,288||47%||$21,779|
|44811||Men's Clothing Stores||78,421||56,648||-21,773||-28%||$24,823|
|45439||Other Direct Selling Establishments||64,255||52,301||-11,954||-19%||$41,218|
|45113||Sewing, Needlework, and Piece Goods Stores||53,618||43,478||-10,140||-19%||$15,435|
|44523||Fruit and Vegetable Markets||48,210||38,916||-9,294||-19%||$27,024|
|45421||Vending Machine Operators||65,787||38,108||-27,679||-42%||$30,318|
|44412||Paint and Wallpaper Stores||43,359||34,120||-9,239||-21%||$38,543|
|45114||Musical Instrument and Supplies Stores||37,457||30,003||-7,454||-20%||$27,486|
|44421||Outdoor Power Equipment Stores||31,748||29,196||-2,552||-8%||$32,956|
|44121||Recreational Vehicle Dealers||31,951||29,019||-2,932||-9%||$41,041|
|45122||Prerecorded Tape, Compact Disc, and Record Stores||76,189||21,598||-54,591||-72%||$25,914|
|44832||Luggage and Leather Goods Stores||16,343||14,268||-2,075||-13%||$33,002|
|45393||Manufactured (Mobile) Home Dealers||37,146||13,631||-23,515||-63%||$37,579|
|44522||Fish and Seafood Markets||15,008||12,839||-2,169||-14%||$24,283|
|44313||Camera and Photographic Supplies Stores||23,169||10,278||-12,891||-56%||$39,866|
Top States and Counties for Retail
Nevada, Arizona, and North Dakota have seen the largest percentage gains since 2001 in the retail sector. Nevada and Arizona also saw the greatest percentage gains in population over this time, while North Dakota’s economy has boomed more than any other. On the other end of the spectrum, three rust belt states — Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana — have easily seen the largest percentage losses in retail.
Zooming in on all US counties, Maricopa County in Arizona has grown the most in total retail jobs since 2001 (+23,496), while Hidalgo and Collin counties in Texas have both added more than 12,000 jobs and grown at least 33% in the last decade. The biggest proportional losses have come in Ohio (Franklin, Montgomery, Hamilton, and Cuyahoga counties).
Notable stats for retail among US counties with at least 20,000 jobs in the sector:
- Highest average earnings (national average is $31,159): New York, NY ($55,783); San Francisco, CA ($50,488); Fairfield, CT ($47,244); Santa Clara, CA ($46,846); and Morris, NJ ($44.626).
- Highest concentration using location quotient (national average is 1.00): Gloucester, NJ (1.55); Horry, SC (1.53); Pasco, FL (1.53); Prince William, VA (1.49); Rockingham, NH (1.49); Hiladgo, TX (1.40).
- Greatest percentage decline: Franklin, OH (-26%); Marion, IN (-26%); Montgomery, OH (-26%); Wayne, MI (-23%); Hamilton, OH (-22%); Ramsey, MN (-22%); and Cuyahoga, OH (-22%).