Although many observers lament the loss of retail jobs as consumers become more comfortable with e-commerce, one economist believes that society should instead embrace and encourage that shift.
Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist for the liberal-leaning Progressive Policy Institute, recently told The New York Times that e-commerce created more than five times the number of jobs that were lost in the retail sector over the past decade.
More importantly, Mandel added, those new jobs tend to pay better — about 30 percent more than brick-and-mortal retail— and are generally full-time and offer benefits.
The Times noted that Mandel's view is unconventional because government jobs data is unclear. He noted that although Amazon says it employs about 12,000 people in Kentucky, federal numbers show just 2,640 Kentucky workers employed in "e-commerce."
Mandel said that he instead examined overall warehouse jobs between late 2007 and 2017 and found that, on a county-by-county basis, they tended to correspond to construction of e-commerce "fulfillment centers."
He estimated that e-commerce generated 397,000 new jobs over that span as the retail sector lost 76,000 positions.
Although he conceded that the number might include some warehouses that supply traditional retail locations, the estimate also does not take into account e-commerce hiring through staffing agencies.
"To be honest, this was a surprise to me," Mandel told the paper. "I did not expect this."
Critics of Mandel's projections noted that e-retailers are already attempting to keep their hiring levels down through the use of technology and automation, but Mandel argued that a complete takeover by warehouse robots remains in the distant future.
He estimated that the transition could mirror the economy of the early 20th century, when both manufacturing efficiency and wages increased dramatically.
“This could be the pendulum swinging back,” he told the Times.