NYC loses nearly 40,000 retail jobs since pandemic: survey

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The number of retail jobs in New York City plunged by nearly 40,000 compared with pre-pandemic levels as remote work, automation and the rise of e-commerce have caused businesses to cut hiring, according to an industry survey released Thursday.

The sector — which includes major department stores and boutiques among many other businesses, but excludes restaurants — saw jobs decline by 11.1% to 301,700 in February 2023, a 37,800 drop from February 2020, according to the Center for an Urban Future, which produced the inaugural report.

Manhattan has been the slowest to recover out of the five boroughs, accounting for 32,862 of the job losses, or a 20% decline from pre-pandemic levels, largely because of remote work trends, said Jonathon Bowles, the organization’s executive director.

“As people are working from home, they are more apt to click to buy than walk into a store,” Bowles said, “and it’s around this time that automation began to accelerate.”

The survey showed Queens has 4,890 fewer jobs, down 7.6%, Brooklyn lost 4,024 jobs (5.1%), Staten Island lost 1,459 (8.7%) and the Bronx lost 1,034 (3.3%).

The retail sector — which includes major department stores and boutiques among many other businesses, but excludes restaurants — saw jobs decline by 11.1% to 301,700 in February.
UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Another major factor for the decline in retail jobs, Bowles said, has been the Big Apple’s mass exodus during the pandemic. New York City’s population fell 5.3%, or 468,000, from April 2020 to July 2022, Census data shows.

“The pandemic accelerated a decline in retail jobs that has been happening since 2015,” Bowles said, when there were 347,400 retail jobs.

Among the worst hit retailers were clothing and department stores – down 27% and 17% respectively – from February 2020 to February 2023, while sporting goods, and book and music stores were down 14%.


Customers waiting in line
“As people are working from home, they are more apt to click to buy than walk into a store,” said Jonathon Bowles, executive director of Center for an Urban Future, “and it’s around this time that automation began to accelerate.”
Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Times Square dueing the pandemic.
Another major factor for the decline in retail jobs has been the Big Apple’s mass exodus during the pandemic. Times Square, above, during the pandemic.
Getty Images

The average store in the city has about one fewer employee than it did before the pandemic, largely due to the growing adoption of kiosks at big chains like CVS, Target and Home Depot, according to the report.

Many of the jobs that were lost provide a middle-class income. The average wage across all retail sectors is $53,900, according to the Center for New York City Affairs. 

“There are a significant number of New Yorkers who don’t have a four-year degree and retail has been an important foot-hold for this workforce,” Bowles said.

Meanwhile, restaurants have seen a slightly better recovery, with employment down 5.7% from pre-pandemic levels, according to the report.


Signs advertises the availability of retail space.
Many of the jobs that were lost provide a middle-class income. The average wage across all retail sectors is $53,900, according to the Center for New York City Affairs. 
James Keivom

“Restaurants and retailers have diverged since the pandemic,” Bowles said. “People are still going into Manhattan to eat out, but I’m not sure they are coming into the city to shop as much.”

New York’s retail employment has significantly lagged behind the nation’s retail sector – down just 0.7% – over the past three years, according to the report. 

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