The Jobless Recovery

If you want to understand the jobless recovery from the Great Recession of 2008, check out your local CVS or grocery store.  I’ve been staying in Jamaica Plain, Mass for Thanksgiving.  In JP there are two CVS’ within about ten blocks of each other on the main drag, Centre Street.  About a year ago,( I may be wrong on my timing here) when I was at the CVS you could check out at a proper check out register, of which there were several, with a person helping out.  Now at one CVS’ there is only one register with one human being, and three or four computer stations where you do the checkout yourself.   At the other, there are two registers and four computer stands.

What does this mean?  It means that on Centre Street a number of jobs have been lost, forever.  Since these stores operate from 7am to 10pm,  workers are needed for two shifts.    According to a worker at one of the stores, they lost two part timers and two full timers.  “Every year we lose more hours.  We are down to bare bones and the work doesn’t lessen,” this worker told me.  Which means increased job stress and strain, which has health consequences.  Lost jobs may also mean lost healthcare benefits, which means more workers dependent on federal subsidies from either Medicaid or Obamacare, or some other state or federal problem  if they are eligible at all.  These jobs are filled by low wage workers who will have a very difficult time finding work elsewhere.  Thus, as a society, we lose revenue in taxes and out of work people don’t spend money in our consumer driven economy.

But that’s the future.  We do our own checkout at the drugstore, grocery store, seek out, purchase and then assemble our own furniture from Ikea,and we are told, at least by Ikea, that this benefits all of us because of lower prices.  What it really benefits is the profit margins of large corporate chains.

I used to boycott the computers at the grocery or drug store.  Now it’s becoming harder and harder.  This morning, when I bought my newspaper at the CVS, I was forced to use the computer checkout.  The clerk who manned or womanned the lone register was on a bathroom break.  Pretty soon CVS won’t even need bathrooms because there will be no staff at all, but just robots roaming the aisles.  Question is, who will be their customers?

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