What the retail slump means for San Diego

Now that the holidays are behind us, let’s take a look at some of the data. Early indicators point to another strong holiday shopping season in 2016, beating already lofty forecasts for retail sales1. San Diego’s employment grew by 12,100 in November, as retailers staffed up to meet the surge of shoppers2. But a lot of that hiring is seasonal, and these seasonal boosts are trending down. In fact, growth in retail trade employment has slowed dramatically over the past two years to a mere 0.1 percent.

Local employment in retail trade remains 2.8 percent below the pre-recession peak; 11 percent of regional unemployment comes from the industry3. This is because shoppers are increasingly turning to online retailers rather than brick and mortar stores – a trend that has continued to grow since the advent of e-commerce giants like Amazon.com (see chart below).

Traditional retailers are struggling to compete. Last week both Macy’s and Sears announced hundreds of store closures, which will bring thousands of layoffs across the U.S. In San Diego, Macy’s apparel store in Mission Valley will be shutting its doors, leaving 140 people without jobs4.

Changes in technology have had a profound impact on the economy and the composition of jobs. And while the tech boom has brought about gains in productivity, e-commerce and automation are displacing retail workers. These are jobs that are mostly held by women, and where more than half are held by people under the age of 355.

EDC will keep a close eye as these trends develop. Look out for our next monthly employment report on January 20.


  1. National Retail Federation: https://nrf.com/news/retail-sales-see-solid-gains-first-half-of-holiday-season
  2. San Diego December 2016 LMI Release: http://www.labormarketinfo.ca.gov/file/lfmonth/sand$pds.pdf
  3. EMSI; CA LMI; BLS; Infogroup
  4. Macy’s Press Release: http://www.wsj.com/articles/PR-CO-20170104-910412
  5. EMSI; CA LMI; BLS; Infogroup