Experts: Don't Underestimate Power of Retail, Restaurant Jobs

Aug 12, 2017

Credit Wikimedia Commons Alan Light

WASHINGTON - According to the latest numbers, the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurant and retail jobs, added 62,000 jobs last month.

While many people are quick to dismiss those positions as less important or not "real" jobs, Robert Doar, a fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute, says these jobs represent an important foot in the door for millions of young people, as well as a re-entry into the workforce for those needing a second chance. "They provide a path upwards," he stresses. "Now, they don't guarantee a path upwards, but they are a start and they are almost always going to lead to a better economic circumstance than not having a job at all." Overall, the U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs in July, beating expectations. The service sector is the country's largest private sector employer, encompassing more than 30 million jobs nationwide. Doar, who also is a senior adviser for the Path Forward coalition, says because of its sheer size and the role it plays as a gateway to future employment, the health of the service sector is an important indicator of the overall health of the economy. "

"Sometimes we get hung up on particular focus on manufacturing, or high tech, even government, or health care, but the fact of the matter with 30 million jobs in this one sector is a big part of whether our economy is moving forward or standing still," he points out.

Attorney Broderick Johnson was the chair of the My Brother's Keeper Task Force under President Barack Obama, and also is a senior adviser with Path Forward. He says not only do retail and restaurant jobs teach critical skills such as punctuality, reliability and consistency, they actually can play a role in strengthening communities. "Violence-reduction strategies have to include making sure that young men of color especially have good first job opportunities, and without question the service industry is such an important part of making sure those strategies and those young people succeed," he stresses.

Despite the rising role of e-commerce, experts say the latest numbers point to the staying power of brick-and-mortar retail businesses and the jobs tied to them.