More than 60,000 retail jobs have disappeared in the last two months, according to Labor Department data released Friday, adding another data point to the ongoing troubles in a pillar of the US economy.
Alongside dead malls, dying mall brands, and the appearance of cashier-free stores in recent months, it's a grim sign for job prospects in a sector that employs almost 16 million Americans.
Retail employment fell by 29,700 jobs in March, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, after dropping by 30,900 in February. It's the worst two months of retail job losses since the Great Recession-era depths of 2009.
The data comes as JC Penney, Macy's, and other brick-and-mortar retailers continue to announce store closures and Walmart and other players see their business increasingly move online. This week, Payless Shoes, which has about 4,000 stores and employes more than 20,000 people, said it would file for bankruptcy and close hundreds of outlets.
Amazon, which is gradually eating away at the entire retail industry, announced Thursday that it plans to add 30,000 new jobs over the next year, including 5,000 work-from-home customer service positions and 25,000 warehouse staffers. In January, Amazon announced plans to add 100,000 new jobs (some of which had been previously planned), and the retail giant has seen its domestic workforce swell from from 30,000 in 2011 to more than 180,000 by the end of 2016.
All told, the US economy added just 98,000 jobs in March, well shy of the 180,000 economists predicted and down from February's gain of 219,000 jobs. Economists attributed the slowdown in part to the strong employment gains made in recent years, with unemployment now down to 4.5%, its lowest level since 2007.
But the lack of booming jobs numbers will need to be carefully massaged by the White House, after President Trump spent much of 2016 describing the US economy in dire terms and claiming the employment gains reported under the Obama administration were a mirage.
At the time of the February report, President Trump hailed the month's strong job gains as a sign of his administration's success, tweeting, "We are only just beginning." Job data, he said, "may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now."