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Help Wanted? Why Kentucky Retail Jobs Are Dwindling

Nate Grigg/Creative Commons

There’s a typical pattern in retail jobs: a huge uptick in November and December for the holidays, followed by a dramatic drop after that. Then it picks back up in April, remaining consistent until early fall. And the cycle begins again once the holidays roll back around.

But this year in the commonwealth, things are a little different. 

“It looks like the decline between December and April of this year is a little bit more dramatic,” said Christopher Bollinger, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky. 

Kentucky employed nearly 217,000 workers in December 2016, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That number dipped to nearly 212,000 workers in April of 2017.

Bollinger said it’s a little puzzling as to why we’re seeing fewer demands for retail employees this year in Kentucky, though he speculates the dip is due to lower retail sales. 

Nationally, close to 16 million people work in retail — including cashiers, stock clerks and buyers. Most of the people who hold these jobs are younger and many retail workers are concentrated in department stores and in malls. Some workers sell big ticket items, like cars — those employees tend to be older and more experienced.

But the vast majority of people working in retail are young, said Bollinger. And many of the jobs don't education requirements.

“The tend to be in the 16-25 year age group,” he said.  

In the Louisville Metro area, approximately 20,000 salespeople work retail jobs with wages ranging from $16,000-$38,000. That's far less than the living wage for a family of four in the area, which is $47,278.

Shopping at malls has been on the decline for decades, and department stores such as Sears and J.C. Penny have been shutting down across the country. Bollinger said those falling numbers could be linked to consumer trends. 

“That could just be reflecting differences in consumer behavior," he said. "People got tired of the mall."

Bollinger said people are moving toward buying goods in smaller shops and online — both have different retail staffing needs from huge department stores.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.

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