"Should we mourn them?" "Companies come and go, you might say, and American families have more-serious things to worry about than the fate of Sears’s shareholders. But the decline of big-box retail and department stores could also mark the fall of retail as a job engine. - Throughout the 20th century, American stores were the locus of low-skilled employment. The total retail workforce tripled between 1940 and 2000, and for much of the century, the sector employed more people than construction and health care combined. Even today, the two most common occupations in America, by a wide margin, are retail salesperson and cashier. Last year, 7.6 million people held those jobs—more than the total number of workers in Florida. - But retail employment is following a familiar path, one already beaten by farmers and factory workers. In 1900, more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce was in agriculture. Today, that number is about 2 percent. In 1950, about one-third of Americans worked in manufacturing. Today, about 10 percent do. This is what happens to industries that are bitten by the productivity bug. Jobs are plentiful, and employment climbs and climbs, and then something happens—somebody invents the tractor; somebody builds an assembly-line robot—and suddenly the trend line finds itself on the long side of the mountain. - Retail still employs one in nine working Americans, and retail jobs have grown since the bottom of the Great Recession. But we might be witnessing the moment when it passes over the mountaintop. Between 1950 and 1990, retail employment grew more than 50 percent faster than the general workforce did. Since 1990, it’s grown 50 percent slower. Retail now employs fewer people than it did in 1999. And those people work significantly fewer hours, too.