How Ecommerce Creates Jobs for American Workers and Saves Time for American Families

This past weekend a Wall Street Journal piece quoted me on ecommerce jobs:

One economist who has looked at these trends has concluded something surprising: When you include all the jobs in fulfillment, delivery, and related roles, e-commerce has created more jobs between 2007 and January 2020 than bricks-and-mortar retailers lost, says Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank. Since January, employment in this sector has fallen, but Dr. Mandel believes that as consumer spending recovers, so will employment in this area.

I thought I would give some of the statistical backup. I calculated total jobs in brick-and-mortar plus ecommerce by adding retail trade, couriers and messengers (NAICS 492)(local delivery) and warehousing and storage (NAICS 493)(ecommerce fulfillment).  This total was still rising in early 2020, before the pandemic hit, with the peak coming in January 2020.

Between December 2007, the previous business cycle peak, and January 2020, ecommerce industries created 900K more jobs than were lost in brick-and-mortar retail. We can see the total in this chart.

Total jobs went up because unpaid hours that Americans used to spend driving to the mall, parking, wandering through stores, waiting on line to pay, and driving home are now being transferred to the paid sector.

How many hours are being saved? Each year the BLS does a survey called the American Time Use Survey. It shows that average consumer shopping hours per person, excluding groceries and gasoline,  fell by 27%, from roughly 144 hours per year in 2007 to roughly 105 hours per year in 2018. Presumably this decline was driven by ecommerce.


The implication: Summed over the whole U.S. population, ecommerce saved American families 10 billion hours per year in 2018. 

The conclusion: More jobs for American workers, more time for American families.

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