Amazon’s announcement that it would invest $5 billion and create 50,000 jobs in the location where they choose to build their second headquarters set off intense competition among cities hoping to lure the e-commerce giant. But Alana Semuels reminds us in The Atlantic that cities desperate for jobs have welcomed Amazon before in the form of warehouse work at distribution centers. These jobs have typically started at $12 an hour and are so grueling that very few workers “make it to two years of continuous service.” Despite this, locals say any job is better than no job, but the adverse effects of low-paid, high turnover work on a depressed city have been clear:
San Bernardino is just one of the many communities across the country grappling with the same question: Is any new job a good job? These places, often located in the outskirts of major cities, have lost retail and manufacturing jobs and, in many cases, are still recovering from the recession and desperate to attract economic activity. This often means battling each other to lure companies like Amazon, which is rapidly expanding its distribution centers across the country. But as the experience of San Bernardino shows, Amazon can exacerbate the economic problems that city leaders had hoped it would solve. The share of people living in poverty in San Bernardino was at 28.1 percent in 2016, the most recent year for which census data is available, compared to 23.4 in 2011, the year before Amazon arrived. The median household income in 2016, at $38,456, is 4 percent lower than it was in 2011. This poverty near Amazon facilities is not just an inland California phenomenon—according to a report by the left-leaning group Policy Matters Ohio, one in 10 Amazon employees in Ohio are on food stamps.
Nearby, unionized warehouse workers at grocery chain Stater Bros. have jobs that start at $26 an hour and full benefits, a sign that things could be better at fulfillment centers whose boss at the top is currently the richest person in history.