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Where The Jobs Are


October 7, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The retail industry has become the No. 1 private-sector job creator in Puerto Rico.

With 131,400 employees on its payrolls, the retail sector far outpaces the manufacturing (114,900 jobs) and construction sectors (67,300 jobs), to give just two examples. If jobs in the wholesale sector are included, the total number of jobs in commerce comes to a whopping 160,000, according to statistics of the local Labor & Human Resources Department.

In fact, the only sector of the island’s economy that employs more people is government, with 305,700 people in all three (federal, state, and municipal) levels.

Employment by the manufacturing and construction sectors has been steadily declining in the past five years. In 2000, manufacturing accounted for 142,900 jobs, compared with 114,900 today. Construction, which in 2000 employed 73,500 people, has gone down to 67,300 employees today.

Furthermore, of the larger economic sectors, retail is the fastest growing, with 2.6% growth in the last year.

The tourism sector, for example, grew 2.5% during the same period, but it employs only 68,400. The health & education services sectors, which employ 88,500, grew only 1.4%, while the professional, scientific, technical & administrative services sectors, which collectively employ 92,900, actually shrunk by 2.3%.

Sure, the small sector of information services grew 7% last year, but it employs only 22,800 people.

Critics of the retail sector’s spectacular growth in the past few years, including those who have opposed the expansion of supermarkets, megastores, and other big-box retailers, note that retail jobs aren’t comparable to better-paying jobs in manufacturing.

They are right. In 2003, retail and wholesale trade paid an average annual compensation of $14,017 per worker, comparable to the $14,655 made by workers in the construction industry. By comparison, employees in the manufacturing industry made an average $28,250. What’s more, retail and wholesale trade was the only one of the three industries to see a drop in employee compensation from 2002 to 2003.

Also to be considered are the benefits offered to employees. Most jobs in manufacturing (including the high-paying pharmaceutical manufacturing sector) are full-time and offer fringe benefits. Retailers also offer complete benefits packages to full-timers, but they mostly hire part-timers, and these don’t normally receive benefits unless they have been employed for a certain period, usually a year.

What these critics usually don’t mention is that having a job, even if it offers low wages and few benefits, is better than having none at all.

Surely, we should continue to work hard to further develop our economy so we might create more and better-paying jobs, particularly in the information or knowledge-based industries, which are the industries of the future.

But to dismiss jobs in the retail sector as not good enough is ridiculous, even if they are part-time jobs. In fact, the plentiful creation of part-time jobs has given new opportunities to whole categories of workers, such as students and homemakers, who couldn’t otherwise be gainfully employed, albeit part-time.

As one of our sources for our front-page story this week told us, to see part-time opportunities as somehow destroying full-time opportunities is to have a shortsighted view of the labor market. Part-time and full-time jobs complement each other. A part-time job offers entry-level workers an opportunity to gain the experience and the skills that will help to obtain a full-time job. It must be noted that many part-timers are young college students helping to pay for their education.

Job creation is important no matter what benefits the jobs offer or how much they pay. Jobs in retail, which some deride as second-class because they pay less, still give employees purchasing power.

The creation of jobs, regardless of what type of jobs, stimulates income, and income stimulates the economy.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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