Tucson Gets Bad News From Amazon

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The city gets fifteen-dollar jobs from Amazon while other cities get the company’s six-figure jobs.

Local news outlets were all aflutter about Amazon recently announcing that it would be hiring hundreds of workers at $15.50 per hour for its sortation center near the Tucson airport. That’s actually bad news.

What could possibly be bad news about that?

Before answering that question, let’s put the hiring in perspective:

– In September of last year, Amazon announced that it would be hiring 100,000 additional employees for its warehouses in the U.S. and Canada, resulting in its total U.S. workforce increasing to more than 700,000 and its total number of facilities to over 600. The new Tucson jobs are a drop in that humongous bucket.

– A recent Wall Street Journal story on Amazon included statistics on how many employees the company has, by city, across the U.S. Not surprisingly, given its business model of quick deliveries, Amazon has warehouse and delivery personnel in just about every fair-sized city. And naturally, the larger the city, the larger the number of employees (and facilities). That’s why Amazon has substantially more warehouse and delivery personnel in Phoenix than in Tucson.

Some unknown percentage of Amazon’s employment growth comes at the expense of employment at brick-and-mortar stores. As Amazon and other internet-based retailers grow, they displace traditional retailers, along with the employees of those retailers. Economists refer to this as creative destruction; that is, the destruction that occurs when more innovative and efficient companies come out the winner in the marketplace—which economists say, makes society more prosperous. 

Of course, those whose jobs are eliminated by creative destruction don’t feel more prosperous. But that’s not the bad news about Amazon’s expansion in Tucson.

The bad news is that Amazon bypasses Tucson for its high-paid jobs, such as corporate jobs and technical jobs. For example, the company is in the process of adding 33,000 of these positions in its two headquarters of Seattle and Arlington, Virginia, as well as its hubs of New York, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Dallas, and Detroit (Detroit?). The jobs at the hubs are in engineering, product management, and software development, across various departments, including Amazon Web Services, the Alexa virtual-assistant team, advertising and Amazon Fresh.

Tucson tried to land Amazon’s second headquarters, but it never had a chance against Arlington.  That’s because the company’s rich executives, like rich executives at most big companies, prefer wealthy locales of low poverty, tree-lined streets, manicured commercial and residential properties, and a highly educated populace for their headquarters and themselves—and for their children, given that such locales have highly rated k-12 schools. 

Arlington is also part of the Washington metropolis, or Imperial City, which is one of the wealthiest metro areas in the nation. This is where laws and regulations are enacted that benefit the ruling class and plutocrats at the expense of the rubes in distant provinces. It’s also where Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post and where his legions of lobbyists live.

Arlington’s poverty rate is a third of the rate in the City of Tucson, its median household income is three times higher than Tucson’s, and its k-12 test scores are in the stratosphere compared to Tucson’s.  

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the higher test scores aren’t due to higher education spending but to most Arlington children living in two-parent households and having highly-educated and wealthy parents. To that point, 40% of Arlington adults have a graduate degree, versus 11% of Tucson adults.  If education spending in Arlington public schools were $2 per year per student, most parents would have the wherewithal to get their kids to excel.

Tucson’s inability to compete with Arlington is not the bad news, since few cities can compete with the Imperial City and environs. The bad news is that the selfish Tucson establishment—consisting of the select few who already had wealth, political power, or sinecure—decided decades ago to keep Tucson from becoming a thriving, prosperous business center. 

As a result, Tucson gets Amazon’s fifteen-dollar jobs, and other cities get its six-figure jobs.

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