New York City Has Lost Tens of Thousands of Retail Jobs, Report Finds


    “New York is on the verge of a crisis, when it comes to jobs that are accessible to New Yorkers without a college degree,” Mr. Bowles said, and the decline is contributing to widening racial disparities.

    More than 70 percent of the city’s 301,700 retail jobs are held by Black, Hispanic and Asian workers, a disproportionate share of whom did not finish college. Over a fifth of that work force is under the age of 25.

    In the first quarter of the year, the unemployment rate for Black New Yorkers was 12.2 percent, compared to 1.3 percent for white New Yorkers — the biggest gap this century.

    A spokeswoman for City Hall pointed to Mayor Eric Adams’s “New New York” plans for economic development, and said that he was “proud to have ushered in a 99 percent recovery of private-sector jobs post-pandemic,” but did not address why New York was losing more retail jobs than the national average.

    The industries in New York that are growing — tech, finance, health, legal and accounting services — are not accessible to the work force that has been laid off, Mr. Bowles said.

    And growing sectors that are accessible might not meet demand or offer the same level of pay.

    The average annual wage across all retail sectors in 2021 was $53,900, according to Dr. James Parrott, the director of economic and fiscal policy at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

    Jobs for couriers and messengers, who made $48,180 on average in 2021, have risen more than 20 percent in the last three years, a reflection of an uptick in e-commerce. But that amounted to only 4,300 new jobs, Mr. Bowles said.

    The growth of home health care services has also been sharp, with a gain of 41,700 new jobs, but those positions tend to pay far less than some retail jobs.

    Home health aides, predominantly women of color, were paid an average $30,560 in 2021, according to Dr. Parrott.

    “They’re basically getting paid minimum wage,” he said.

    The working-age population of New York City was down 400,000 people in March and April of 2023, compared to the start of 2020, which hurt retail demand, Dr. Parrott said.

    To counter the losses in retail, Mr. Bowles said, the city should invest in job training programs that can help retail workers transition to other fields.

    The report also recommended offering tax incentives to encourage in-person shopping and, most crucially, expanding new affordable housing in the five boroughs to increase foot traffic and shore up demand.

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