Retail jobs aren't good jobs, per se; on average, they pay little, provide few benefits, and are notoriously unstable. But roughly 1 in every 10 Americans works in retail, which means millions rely on the industry for their livelihoods. As the Times notes, "The job losses in retail could have unexpected social and political consequences, as huge numbers of low-wage retail employees become economically unhinged, just as manufacturing workers did in recent decades."Trump cares so little about working class (and often working poor) retail workers, who are disproportionately women of color, that he doesn't even bother to offer them lipservice about "bringing back" their jobs, as they are lost in droves to online shopping.
Despite this ongoing challenge and threat to millions of ordinary Americans, Washington is silent. What makes this even more striking is it comes at a time when politicians—and a multitude of voices in national media—are preoccupied with the prospects of blue-collar whites and the future of the Rust Belt. That contrast exists for several reasons, not the least of which is a simple one: Who does retail work in this country versus who does manufacturing work.
For those in the latter group, mostly white and mostly male, Donald Trump made their anger, anxiety, and identity the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, promising restoration through better "deals" and aggressive action against foreigners and perceived others.
...In terms of attention, these workers punch far above their weight class. They constitute a small portion of the American workforce, and yet, elite journalists devote countless words to their lives and communities, while politicians use them and their priorities as a platform for performing authenticity. For those in and around politics, one's connection to "real America" is often judged by one's proximity to these workers and their concerns. Which raises a question: Why them and not those retail workers who face an equally (if not more) precarious future?
...Retail work in malls and shopping centers and department stores is largely work done by women. Of the nearly 6 million people who work in those fields in stores like Sears, Michaels, Target, J.C. Penney, and Payless, close to 60 percent are women. There's another issue to consider. A substantial portion of these workers—roughly 40 percent across the different kinds of retail—are black, Latino, or Asian American.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't disaggregate this data by race and gender, but it's likely that a large number of those nonwhite workers—if not a majority—are women too. By contrast, heavy manufacturing, industrial, and extraction work is overwhelmingly white and male.
Were he obliged to comment, he would almost certainly give them the same line of garbage that he gives to mostly white men in blue-collar jobs: He will make great deals! Their jobs are coming back!
This is a lie. It's a lie he only bothers to tell to the segments of the population who he believes deserve his recognition. But it is still a lie.
Retail jobs are being lost to automation via online shopping. Service jobs are being lost to automation via self-serve kiosks, even in restaurants, where touch-screen order interfaces are popping up where waitstaff used to be. Manufacturing jobs are being lost to automation via robots.
Automation is the word that Donald Trump dare not say. Because jobs that have been made redundant by technologies that are cheaper than paying human beings are never coming back.
Once upon a time, if you called any one of your utility companies, for example, a person would answer the phone. These operators, who were almost exclusively women, would talk to you, assess to whom you needed to speak, and connect you. Many years ago, they were replaced with automated directories, that eventually became the frustrating, labyrinthine series of selections we are obliged to make before we can speak to an actual human, if we ever even get there.
That people hated these automated directories, and bitterly complain about them still, has not inspired companies across the land to declare them a failed experiment and rehire human operators.
That is but one example of many. Trump isn't going to "bring back" operator jobs, and anyone who even made such a request would be laughed out of the room, because we all understand that they are well and truly obsolete.
Right now, millions of Americans are working in jobs that will succumb to that same obsolescence, sooner rather than later.
When Hillary Clinton acknowledged this reality, saying that coal mining jobs would have to be replaced with jobs in the renewable energy industry, she was attacked and obliged to apologize. For telling the truth.
Trump simply tells lies that people want to hear, and makes promises he can't possibly keep.
And meanwhile does nothing in order to prevent future job losses. Getting back to Bouie's article, that inaction will have catastrophic consequences for retail workers, who, by virtue of low wages, are incredibly more likely to be unable to weather long-term unemployment than workers in many other industries.
"Beautiful trade deals" won't save retail jobs. So what is Trump's plan for this significant portion of the American workforce?
Nothing but continued indifference.