Impact of COVID-19 on Retail Trade

The COVID-19 related economic shutdown has brought an unprecedented number of unemployment claims from workers across the economy. Retail Trade was one of the first industries to experience large job losses. Under Governor Brown’s stay at home order, retail establishments not located in malls or retail complexes could stay open if they were able to maintain social distancing. While grocery stores and pharmacies continue to see robust sales, many other businesses were either unable to open under the current regulations or choose to close temporarily.

As job loses spread throughout the economy consumer spending is down, further exacerbating the impact of the virus and shutdown on the retail sector. Nationally, consumer spending was down a record 16.4 percent in April, representing the steepest decline in recorded history. Retail sales account for a quarter of consumer spending which is the main driver of the U.S. economy.

COVID-19 is expected to accelerate some labor force trends, including automation and the move to online retail. Many stores will not reopen. Those that do may employ fewer people.

With 75,084 jobs and a payroll of $3.1 billion (2019), Retail Trade accounts for 9 percent of Portland Metro’s private-sector employment and 5 percent of payroll. Annual wages averaged $41,700, thirty percent less than the average across all industries.

Since the economic impact of COVID-19 began, initial claims were processed for more than 36,390 Retail workers in Oregon including 12,637 workers in Portland Metro. They represented 10 percent of all claims filed and 17 percent of the 2019 Retail Trade workforce.

In 2019, more than 75,000 people in Multnomah and Washington Counties were employed in Retail Trade. The sector includes more than 300 occupations. Two of them, cashiers and retail salespeople employ more than 10,00 people each. Together, they account for 40 percent of the industry’s total workforce.

Nearly 90 percent of jobs in Retail Trade do not require formal education beyond a high school diploma. A handful of occupations (4%) require a post-secondary credential or an Associate’s degree. Seven percent of Retail Trade jobs require a bachelor’s degree or more.

Most Retail jobs are low wage. Slightly more than half of the industry’s jobs have median wages at or below the 25th percentile of the area’s median wage ($15.07/hr.). Just 13 percent of Retail Trade jobs in Portland Metro have median wages above the region’s median wage ($21.80/hr.).

Workers in this sector tend to be younger than the total workforce. In 2019, nearly half of Retail Trade workers were 14-34 years old, compared to 35 percent of all workers in Portland Metro. Just over half of Retail workers are men (52%).

Date posted: 
Friday, May 15, 2020