BALTIMORE – Lisa Pendry has been laid off eight times since 2008, and each time it’s been even harder to find a new job.
This time, she’s spent three months searching. But it’s tricky to find companies that are hiring, she says, and even more difficult to get an in-person interview.
Which is why she woke up early, put on a flowered top and arrived at this parking lot in Baltimore, eager to meet someone who might hire her.
“I’ve got three kids to feed,” said Pendry, 44, who most recently worked as an administrative assistant for Allstate Insurance. “It doesn’t matter what it is anymore, I just need a job.”
The possibility of an hourly position drew thousands of people to Amazon’s warehouse here Wednesday morning, where they started lining up at 4 a.m. and waited hours in rows that snaked through the sprawling parking lot on a blistering hot day.
The on-site interviews were part of a one-day effort by Amazon to fill 50,000 jobs across the country that it says are necessary to fuel an ever-growing expansion. The e-commerce giant says it made scores of job offers on the spot at a dozen locations from Buffalo, New York, to Oklahoma City. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, owns The Washington Post.)
In Baltimore, Amazon planned to add 1,200 people to its current lineup of 4,200. The jobs, which pay more than Maryland’s $9.25 minimum wage, come with health and disability insurance, as well as a retirement savings plan and stock awards. It was enough to draw a huge crowd on a blistering hot August day, and Amazon recruiters were ready with bottled water and sno cones to cool people down.
“We are excited to be creating great jobs that offer highly competitive wages, benefits starting on day one and the choice for employees to go back to school,” John Olsen, a human resources vice president at Amazon, said in a statement. “These are great opportunities with runway for advancement.”
As Amazon hires at a furious pace, many longtime retailers are scaling back by closing hundreds of stores and doing away with coveted commission-earning positions. Retail jobs – which for years have been stepping stones into the workforce – have increasingly shifted from America’s shopping malls to warehouses on the outskirts of town.
“Retail employment has traditionally been face-to-face, but technology is changing that,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist for the jobs site Indeed. “That has an impact on the number of jobs that are created and destroyed, but also on where those jobs are and who gets them.”
Women hold the majority of retail jobs, he said, but a study of Census data shows that men account for 73 percent of warehousing and storage workers. To add to that: Jobs are increasingly moving from city-centers and suburbs to rural areas where companies can find cheap land for massive facilities. It’s too soon to tell, he said, how those changes will impact the broader economy.
Fry Dekowski says he’s hopeful about the new opportunities. The 25-year-old, who makes about $10 an hour as an electronics associate at Walmart, said he was looking for higher pay and better benefits. Driving a forklift, he said, would be an added bonus.
“I’m waiting here so I can get a better life opportunity,” he said. “Working retail for the last five years has been kind of a nightmare. I need a job with benefits, the kind I can start a family with.”
Warehouse jobs typically pay about 31 percent more than retail jobs in the same county, and are more likely to hire black and Hispanic workers, according to Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the liberal-leaning Progressive Policy Institute. In many parts of the country, he said, new warehouse positions have more than made up for lost bricks-and-mortar jobs, where wages have been stagnating for years.
“I see this as a period of turmoil and upgrading,” he said. “Fulfillment center jobs are hard work – they’re physically taxing, but they pay well. This could actually be a real positive for income equality.”
The promise of $14 an hour is what drew Rebecca Dorman, 25, to the hiring fair. She has two jobs – at McDonald’s and Sav A Lot – but it’s still difficult, she says, to make ends meet.
“I’ve got a boy, he’s 2, and I’ve got to do something better than McDonald’s,” she said. “I’ll take any job.”
A few yards away, Albert Wellons, 48, of Baltimore, agreed. “There’s just no jobs out there,” he said.
“Especially nowadays,” added Lamont Hale, 22, who stood next to him in line wearing an Orioles cap. “Nobody is hiring.”
If Amazon does hire 50,000 people this month, labor economists say that could be enough to make a meaningful impact on the country’s August employment numbers. The U.S. economy has been adding 100,000 to 200,000 jobs each month.
“Fifty thousand jobs is a really big number, and it could absolutely move the needle for August,” said Andrew McAfee, co-director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. “It shows that a technology-focused company like Amazon still needs a lot of good old-fashioned human labor to get their work done.”
As for Pendry, though, she left without a job offer. After five hours of waiting in the sun, it just got to be too much, she said.
“It would’ve been another three or four hours before we got anywhere,” she said. “That line of thousands of people waiting around all day without food – that tells you everything you need to know about the job market.”
“It’s a struggle,” she added. “But I’m going to keep on looking.”