The U.S. retail industry is in the midst of an internet-driven collapse that stands to affect hundreds of thousands of workers. The New York Times reports:
E-commerce players, led by the industry giant Amazon, have made it so easy and fast for people to shop online that traditional retailers, shackled by fading real estate and a culture of selling in stores, are struggling to compete. […]
This transformation is hollowing out suburban shopping malls, bankrupting longtime brands and leading to staggering job losses.
More workers in general merchandise stores have been laid off since October, about 89,000 Americans. That is more than all of the people employed in the United States coal industry, which President Trump championed during the campaign as a prime example of the workers who have been left behind in the economic recovery.
There’s no question that competition from online shopping sites has been crucial to the shuttering of brick-and-mortar stores. But it’s also worth noting that the alarming data are coming in after two years of frenzied minimum wage hikes in cities and states across the country. Retail is a labor-intensive and generally low-wage industry; the minimum wage hikes might not have contributed directly to the evaporation of retail jobs, but they certainly haven’t helped.
We are living at a time when technology and automation seem likely to continue to eat into less-skilled sources of employment for the foreseeable future. This creates an obligation for us to find ways to help the workers who are displaced. But wage floors that put even more people out of work and accelerate the process of dislocation will make the social consequences of this transformation even worse.