Payless ShoeSource is liquidating its nearly 2,500 North American stores and putting 16,000 employees out of work in the process. The discount chain is just the latest in a string of retailers that have gone bankrupt and been forced to lay off a staggering number of workers, tempering employment growth in the sector.
The retail industry is one of the largest private-sector employers in the country, accounting for about 15.8 million American jobs, but this figure has ticked down from the record high of 15.9 million jobs in January 2017. Though a modest loss, it’s striking given the strength of the overall economy and the gains seen in other sectors.
Recent mass layoffs have contributed to the industry’s disappointing numbers: in July, retail job gains were offset by the Toys R Us bankruptcy, which eliminated 30,000 positions. And while Sears has so far narrowly avoided demise, its workforce has been whittled down dramatically in recent years: a deal struck this month in bankruptcy court will allow it to retain about 45,000 employees at 425 stores, down from a high of 355,000 employees between Sears and Kmart in 2006.
According to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, traditional retail has cut more jobs than any other industry for three years in a row, announcing 98,563 cuts in 2018, a 29.5 percent increase over the prior year. 2019, unfortunately, is not looking any better, as Payless’ layoffs add to the approximately 10,000 positions eliminated last month by bankrupt children’s retailer Gymboree. In total, the retail sector announced 22,327 cuts in January, a 45 percent increase over 2018.
With the rise of e-commerce, more jobs are moving into the transportation and warehousing sector, which now employs 5.5 million Americans, up from 4.4 million in 2009.