The death of retail: What do RadioShack and J.C. Penney say about the future consumer economy? Low wage retail work to take a hit.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
By Paul Martin

RadioShack recently announced that it will be closing 1,100 of its 5,000 stores. Holiday sales were dismal and shares were pummeled dropping by 24 percent. The problem of course is that these 1,100 store closures will result in many Americans out of jobs in one of the biggest employment sectors in the country, retail. Yet this one company is indicative of a much larger trend in consumer buying. People are choosing to opt to buy from other avenues especially online via big giants like Amazon. However you do not need a large workforce when you have incredibly efficient supply chains as Amazon has in place. This will only create a greater divide on inequality in our nation since blue collar work has been gutted and even low wage labor is taking a hit. For example, Amazon generates about $600,000 in sales per employee. That is very hard to compete against. Even J.C. Penney’s recent run up in stock value does not reflect a longer term decent. At one point a few years ago J.C. Penney was trading at $41.55 a share while today it trades at $8.30 (an 80 percent drop). In a consumer addicted economy like the U.S. seeing retail take a hit signifies some bigger changes to our workforce. It also makes you wonder who will be buying all this stuff if more people are out of work or living day to day on smaller paychecks.
The death of retail
Efficiency and automation has replaced many jobs in the current economy. A large part of manufacturing has been offshored and what has remained allows a few high skilled workers to operate large plants with less frontline workers. This becomes problematic in a consumer economy where people need money to spend. Many of the new jobs are now low wage jobs in retail and other service sectors. As we recently discussed personal income had a first year-over-year drop since the recession hit. At the same time, household debt increased for the first time in four years largely driven by student debt and auto loans. It looks like Americans are tapped out and simply leveraging debt to fill the gap from lower wages and stagnant income growth.

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