Retail apocalypse has crippled teen job market

Memorial Day weekend marked the unofficial start to summer. But for young jobseekers, there is nothing to celebrate.

American retailers that have traditionally staffed up in summers are closing at an unprecedented rate. More than 3,500 stores have closed already this year, with at least 10 well-known retail chains filing for bankruptcy protection. These include RadioShack, Payless Shoes, and Rue21, which plan to close more than 1,000 stores this year. Other mall regulars like American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch, BCBG, and Guess plan to close hundreds more.

Since last August, Macy’s, J.C. Penny, and Sears have announced they are closing nearly 400 stores, with the latter admitting it’s on the verge of bankruptcy. Because of these retailers’ outsized importance as mall anchor tenants, their pain trickles down to other nearby stores.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked 26,000 job losses at traditional retail stores in February alone. Once a symbol of youth summer jobs, malls are becoming a memorial to them.

This retail apocalypse is occurring for several reasons, including the fierce competition from online retailers and a slew of state and local minimum wage increases that eliminate scant profit margins. American cities with Amazon warehouses will probably fare alright, but the rest of the country is seeing its retail jobs disappear because of them.

Even traditional summer job opportunities that aren’t in direct competition with Amazon are disappearing. Many movie theaters now use ordering kiosks. Grocery and convenience stores have self-checkout lines. And major restaurant chains like Chili’s, Applebee’s and Panera use tablet ordering systems. These are automated tasks that were once performed by a mostly young workforce.

The disappearance of these jobs is demonstrated by the data. Less than one-in-three young Americans aged 16-to-19 has a job, significantly below the historical norm.

Last year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office issued a report indicating that one-in-six young American men aged 18-to-34 was either jobless or incarcerated, up from one-in-ten in 1980. These negative employment numbers are especially stark given the current strong economy.

  • frankw

    “Current strong economy”? Point out literally thousands of retail closures, tens of thousands of jobs lost and in the same breath speak of a strong economy. Oh wait, I get it. You actually mean the fat cats on Wall St. sucking up that free dough from the Fed. Businesses buoyed up by endless wars. That of course, is the answer to joblessness. Put them all in the army.