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E-Commerce as a Jobs Engine? One Economist’s Unorthodox View

Retailing is dead. Sales clerks are losing their jobs by the thousands. The employment picture for young people with only a high school education is going to get even worse. And all this is happening because of Amazon and its ilk, which are driving the shift among consumers toward e-commerce.

We've heard this story over and over in recent months: The echo chamber keeps repeating that the retail apocalypse is upon us.

And yet, according to one economist, Michael Mandel, it is all wrong. We have it backward.

Mr. Mandel is turning heads from Washington to Silicon Valley with a provocative and unorthodox argument: He asserts that the move toward e-commerce is creating more jobs than are being lost in the brick-and-mortar retailing industry — and that these new jobs are paying much higher wages than traditional retail jobs.

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Mr. Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, contends that most economists are using the wrong job numbers to measure the e-commerce industry. He says that government numbers and conventional industry classifications don't properly count all the jobs associated with e-commerce — in particular, the numbers miss large parts of the industry like fulfillment centers and distribution warehouses. As anyone who has noticed the growing volume of big brown boxes being delivered to people's homes can imagine, facilities like that, which are tied to the e-commerce sector, are expanding rapidly.

Mr. Mandel has combed through the job statistics on a county-by-county basis and come to this counterintuitive view: From December 2007 to May 2017, by his count, the e-commerce industry has created 397,000 jobs in the United States, and this compares with the loss of 76,000 jobs in the traditional retail industry. And those jobs related to e-commerce, he says, pay about 30 percent more than the...


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