Retail job losses mount, women impacted more than men

It’s not easy to keep a job as a retail worker, especially in the first two months of 2019. Retail store closures have been announced one after another, resulting in job losses.

In January and February there were 41,201 job cut announcements in the retail industry, 92% higher than the same period last year and the highest level since 2009, a report from placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas shows.

The layoffs are mainly a result of store closures. Retailers from Payless to Gap plan to shutter hundreds of stores. At Payless alone, 16,000 store associates will be let go due to the shutdown of all its remaining 2,589 stores. This week, Dollar Tree said it will close 390 Family Dollar stores, without specifying how many employees will be affected.

Total number of announced retail store closures so far in 2019. (Graphic:: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
Total number of announced retail store closures so far in 2019. (Graphic:: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

The first quarter of every year, after the busy holiday shopping season, has always been the peak time for retail layoffs. “Companies that didn't achieve what they wanted to do in December, they realized that they might have to make cuts and they start to announce this in January and February,” said Andrew Challenger, Vice President of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Challenger sees the layoffs as a continued shift from brick-and-mortar retail to e-commerce. The lag in total retail growth makes the changing retail landscape a zero-sum game — e-commerce grows at the cost of the traditional retail industry. UBS estimates for each 1% increase in e-commerce penetration, an additional 9,000 stores would need to close. And as fast-growing as the e-commerce industry is, research by The Conference Board finds that the growth in e-commerce jobs is not sufficient to make up for jobs lost in brick and mortar.

Women are hit hardest

Women and men may not feel the same level of pain in the retail apocalypse. In the past year, women lost jobs in the industry overall while men had a net gain in retail jobs, according to the latest analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Women lost retail jobs in February, while men gained jobs.
Women lost retail jobs in February, while men gained jobs.

One cause for the difference could be gender segregation in the industry, men and women tend to be concentrated in different types of retail jobs, according to IWPR. In 2018, 73.8% of cashiers, one of the most common jobs in physical stores, were women. While among truck drivers, a profession that is in high demand nowadays, only 6.6% were women, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And men could be in a more advantageous position to capture the job growth in the e-commerce industry. “The types of jobs that are going away are cashiers, salespeople, customer-facing roles,” said Challenger. “The jobs that are hiring for retail are back in the distribution and warehouses jobs, technical jobs have been traditionally been dominated by men.”

Krystal Hu is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.

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