Retail jobs, so important to the American economy, are weakening

U.S. job reports are how we take the monthly pulse of the nation’s economy, and the March report shows that pulse could be a lot stronger — particularly in a financially significant portion of American economy.

Retail jobs continue to lose to the online shopping monster eating the industry up known as Amazon. The retail trade has slashed 30,000 jobs in March and jobs in general merchandise stores have declines by 35,000.

Why does that matter? Because of this: the top two jobs for all employed Americans are retail salesperson and cashier.

Now that core sector is hurting. The future for brick-and-mortar retail stores looks grim. Unable to keep up with the pace of fast fashion online, The Limited closed all 250 of its stores and cut 4,000 jobs in January. This March, JC Penney announced it was closing 138 stores, which amounted to about 5,000 jobs lost. On Wednesday, Bebe announced that it was closing 21% of its stores in the U.S. amid reported speculation that it will eventually close all of its stores to focus on online retail. Fortune recently asked, “Can America’s department stores survive?”


Job growth has slowed down more than analysts expected. In March, the U.S. only added 98,000 jobs, which is well below the 180,000 expected, according to the Labor Department’s latest job report.

One thing to note: the jobs report does get revised two more times at least, and it can be wrong by 100,000 jobs — so it will likely be around May before we really understand what happened in March.

Still, part of what caught people off guard by the numbers is how much it differs from what the Automatic Data Processing estimate said earlier this week: the ADP forecast said 263,000 more jobs were added to the private sector last month.

On the bright side, unemployment is the lowest it’s been since the 2008 recession. With unemployment dropping to 4.5%, that’s the lowest rate since May 2007. And people are getting raises too, which suggests employers are working harder to retain those employees. The average hourly earnings for all employees increased by five cents up to $26.14.

So if retail is falling, which industries are growing? Mining jobs are up with 11,000 added this past month, which speaks to the growing rise this industry has experienced in the last two years.