Changing Economy Hits Retail Paychecks As Well As Staples of Brick-and-Mortar Businesses
FRIDAY, FEB 14, 2020
The “retail apocalypse” phrase that describes the woes of brick-and-mortar stores over the past decade isn’t just a reference to the thousands of closures that have emptied malls and blighted storefronts across the U.S. It’s also an accurate description of the financial situation for millions of Americans in retail trade, according to American Community Survey data.
Adjusted for inflation, the typical retail employee has lost $3,323 in earnings since the decade began, according to a Social Explorer analysis. The average retail worker made $23,462 in 2018, about 63.9 percent of the average U.S. worker. After inflation, the earnings were still short of the average 2010 wages of $21,428, when retail workers made 66.2 percent of the national average. The typical retail workers in four of five U.S. metro and micro areas made less in 2018 than in 2010, after inflation was taken into account.
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These figures from the 2006-10 and 2014-18 American Community Survey underscore the dire situation for the retail trade industry. Once a mainstay of the American economy, retail trade’s share of the economy has declined over the last decade. The industry has lost more than 105,000 jobs over the last two years, according to the U.S. Labor Department, and the average wages have fallen for employees who have stayed in the industry.
Workers in micropolitan statistical areas, which typically consist of an urban center with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents, have been hammered hardest by the retail apocalypse, according to Census Bureau data. Retail workers in 14 places have suffered inflation-adjusted wage losses of more than $10,000 during the last decade. In 2010, retail workers in Grenada, Miss., reported average earnings of $29,390 – 104.3 percent of the average worker earnings in the Mississippi micro. By 2018, the average earnings for a retail worker were $15,490 – a more than $18,000 decline after inflation, and only 51.5 percent of the typical Grenada worker.
Other micro areas where retail employees lost significant financial ground include Gardnerville Ranchos, Nev. (average retail earnings of $20,217, a $12,400 decline after inflation); Clarksdale, Miss. (average retail earnings of $17,350, a $11,600 decline after inflation); and Middlesborough, Ky., (average retail earnings of $12,474, an $9,800 decline after inflation). No metro areas registered average retail worker losses greater than $10,000 – Napa, Calif., suffered the greatest drop, with the typical retail worker’s 2018 earnings falling to $27,885, an $8,400 decline in real terms from their 2010 earnings.
Despite the grim national picture, retail workers in more than 150 metro and micro areas reported gains in average wages during the decade, regardless of changes in population. Retail employees in Andrews, a West Texas city of 18,000 in the oil-rich Permian Basin that’s grown more than 20 percent over the decade, reported average wages of $25,600 – a $16,250 inflation-adjusted increase over their 2008 earnings. Retail workers in New Ulm, Minn., a city of 25,000 that’s lost 3 percent of its population over the decade, made an average of $26,053 in 2018 – an $10,150 inflation-adjusted increase over their 2010 earnings. Retail employees in Sweetwater, Texas, a Permian Basin city whose population of 14,750 has remained basically flat over the decade, made $30,340, an inflation-adjusted average of $9,750 more in 2018 than they did at the start of the decade.