Connecting the Dots: Mall workers may be next in line for community college help

Home|Blog|Connecting the Dots: Mall workers may be next in line for community college help

Virginia’s Community Colleges are working hard to help people who’ve lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. While its unclear whether the emergency created or simply accelerated these hardships, analysts agree that many of the Virginia jobs lost in the restaurant and entertainment sectors will take a long time to return, if they ever do. Thanks to some extra help in the form of REV grants and our collaboration with Virginia Ready, our FastForward short-term training programs can help people earn the credentials they need for a high-demand career in just a matter of weeks.

There’s another group of people who are experiencing a similar decline: those who work in shopping malls. Image of man shopping

A recent Vox article, entitled “The death of the department store and the American middle class” really brought the scope of this challenge into focus.

“Across the US, department stores are shrinking or shuttering altogether. In 2011, US department stores employed 1.2 million employees across 8,600 stores, according to estimates from the research firm IBISWorld. But in 2020, there are now fewer than 700,000 employees in the sector, working across just over 6,000 locations.”

Basically, that sector has been cut in half over the last decade. That’s significant because there was a time, as the article says, when such jobs offered someone an opportunity to provide a middle-class lifestyle for their family without a college education.

“The sector was welcoming to women salespeople, providing a path to certain corporate roles for those who found success, according to the book From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store. A successful salesperson working in one of these stores, especially before large chains came to dominate the sector, could make a career of their role, providing for their family, no college degree needed. Those days are mostly long gone.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that article. The decline of shopping malls carries broad implications, including threats to community identity and a loss of vital tax revenue for local governments.

However, too many of us have grown comfortable with new ways of shopping to reverse this trend. That includes many of us who grew up as Mallrats, relying on those places to shop and socialize with friends.

As those places and spaces transform into whatever they’re going to become next – Indoor sports venues? Apartments? – we should be talking about what our community colleges are going to do to help those who worked at malls find their next success. It appears that staying in retail jobs will mean settling for even less money.

“So where are department store employees going as their employers cut jobs, close stores, or go bankrupt? In the five-year period from 2015 to 2019, more started working in discount chains. The category of the retail industry that includes dollar stores like Dollar General jumped into the top five categories of employment that attracted workers who had recently left or were laid off from a department store job… That may not be a great thing, as least as it relates to employee earnings. While Dollar General’s stock price has nearly tripled over the past five years, its front-line employees don’t see much of that enrichment. Average hourly base pay at Dollar General is $9, according to the job review site Glassdoor, compared to $11 at Macy’s.”

Community colleges must help these individuals find additional options.

Connecting the Dots is a regular feature of the VCCS Blog where we explore news, events, and trends through the lens of what they could mean for the future of community colleges.

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