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Where are the retail jobs?

December 17, 2010 |  1:48 pm

It's the holiday season, and people are in the mood to spend. In November, they spent 6% more than they did a year ago, and they're even buying $600 shoes and expensive purses. So why aren't there more jobs in retail?

California lost 12,900 jobs in retail trade in November. Compare that with the boom year of 2006: The state gained 2,300 retail jobs that November.

The above numbers are seasonally adjusted for holiday hiring. Without seasonal adjustment, retailers added 26,000 California jobs in November, month-over-month. That still pales in comparison to past years -- in November 2006, for example, retailers added 62,000 jobs.

Further, the durable goods manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors have added jobs, which means there is demand for the things retailers are selling. Consumers want to shop and are shopping. Manufacturers want to make things and sell them -- and are doing so. So why aren't there more jobs helping to sell these goods to consumers?

It's possible that retailers have replaced cashiers with machines and store attendants with robots. Or that employed workers are learning to be more productive. Or that employers are being cheapskates. Or that you're just getting really bad service when you go shopping. 

Or, as Beacon Economics says, a combination of some of those things.

"Retailers have likely increased their efficiency (doing more with less) as they continue to exercise caution in this questionable economy."

So there are some robots. And some cheap employers. But with any luck, Americans' interest in spending will mean employers will need more humans again once the economy picks up.


Automation is increasingly reducing U.S. workforces

Luxury shoppers are making a comeback

Retail sales jump 6% in November

-- Alana Semuels

Photo: IPod vending machine. Credit: Lars Ploughmann via Flickr