The work­ing-class job that Trump could save from au­toma­tion.

The Washington Post Sunday - - BUSINESS - Deals al­lan.sloan@wash­post.com

Pres­i­dent Trump has made a huge deal of his at­tempts to bring back blue-col­lar man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs that have gone over­seas and to shame com­pa­nies into build­ing plants here rather than in other coun­tries. Both of which I think are fine.

But Trump would prob­a­bly get greater value for work­ing­class Amer­i­cans — and for Amer­i­can con­sumers — by spend­ing some of his time lean­ing on com­pa­nies to pre­serve a huge, threat­ened class of blue-col­lar jobs: cashiers. Yes, cashiers.

Speak­ing up for cashiers, which the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics says is the sec­ond­largest oc­cu­pa­tion in the coun­try, wouldn’t be as glam­orous or tweet-able as be­rat­ing Ford or Gen­eral Mo­tors or Car­rier for the loss of Amer­i­can jobs.

But it would be a great way for him to get back to play­ing of­fense and show­ing he cares about the work­ing class. Sup­port­ing the na­tion’s 3.5 mil­lion cashiers could help pre­serve the liveli­hoods of hun­dreds of thou­sands of low­paid peo­ple who are in en­trylevel jobs or re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing-them­selves jobs or try­ing-to-feed-their-fam­ily jobs.

What’s more, there’s even an ex­am­ple, not far from Trump Tower in New York, of how pre­serv­ing cashier-type jobs could be done, at min­i­mal (or per­haps no) cost to con­sumers. It’s in my home state of New Jersey, which has saved thou­sands of such jobs — those of gas sta­tion at­ten­dants.

It’s the un­in­tended but wel­come out­growth of the state’s 1949 ban on the self-pump­ing of gaso­line, which many out-of-staters ridicule. Even so, it is so pop­u­lar that Jersey res­i­dents have re­sisted re­peated at­tempts to end it. Now, let’s step back a bit. The num­ber of cashier jobs — No. 2 only to re­tail sales clerks, ac­cord­ing to the BLS — was al­most ex­actly the same in 2015 (the most re­cent year for which sta­tis­tics are avail­able) as in 2005, even though to­tal U.S. em­ploy­ment was up by 7.6 mil­lion.

Still, it’s ob­vi­ous that these jobs are threat­ened as never be­fore.

Go into any large, rea­son­ably modern su­per­mar­ket, drug store or re­tail store, and you see more and more self-check­out lines and fewer and fewer manned cashier lines.

McDon­ald’s is us­ing self­check­out in some lo­ca­tions. Even Costco — a big com­pany that seems to care about em­ploy­ing peo­ple — is ex­per­i­ment­ing with it.

And here’s the crown­ing blow. Amazon, which has up­ended Amer­ica’s re­tail busi­ness (and whose chief ex­ec­u­tive, Jeff Be­zos, owns The Wash­ing­ton Post), is build­ing phys­i­cal stores that have no cashiers. If Amazon’s ini­tia­tive suc­ceeds, can cashier-less days at main­stream op­er­a­tions be far be­hind?

Look, I’m not propos­ing that the United States turn into a modern-day ver­sion of old-style Rus­sia, where it took half a dozen peo­ple to check you out of a store. And I’m not propos­ing to re­turn to pre-bar code days, when check­out lines were slower and there was more work for cashiers.

But I just look at the gas sta­tions in New Jersey and com­pare them with the large, modern re­tail out­lets in At­lanta’s north­ern sub­urbs, where my wife and I re­cently spent con­sid­er­able time.

Ge­or­gia cus­tomers us­ing the self-check­out line got no sav­ings what­ever in re­turn for do­ing the store’s work. Late at night, at least some big stores had so few cashiers on duty that self­check­out be­came the norm.

By con­trast, at New Jersey gas sta­tions, some­one pumps my gas. That’s a boon to those of us, like me, who have arthritic wrists that don’t re­act well to pump­ing my own gas, which I did in Ge­or­gia. And the Jersey gas lines moved more quickly.

Sal Risal­vato, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the New Jersey trade group that rep­re­sents gas sta­tions and con­ve­nience stores, es­ti­mates there are about 9,000 gas-pump­ing jobs in the state. (The BLS once tracked Jersey gas-pump­ing jobs but no longer does.) Risal­vato, who wants the self-pump­ing ban re­pealed, es­ti­mates that hav­ing at­ten­dants in­creases the price of gas by about 10 cents a gal­lon. To put that in con­text: The state in­creased gas taxes by 23 cents a gal­lon in Novem­ber, and the re­cent av­er­age cost of gas ranged from $2.32 a gal­lon for reg­u­lar to $2.79 for pre­mium, ac­cord­ing to GasBuddy.

Robert Scott III, a pro­fes­sor at New Jersey’s Mon­mouth Univer­sity who in 2007 pub­lished a schol­arly ar­ti­cle about the self-pump­ing ban, thinks it adds lit­tle or noth­ing to gas prices. A ma­jor rea­son, he says, is that in­sur­ance costs for Jersey gas sta­tions are lower than they would be if cus­tomers pumped their own gas.

To be sure, you don’t see the plight of cashiers por­trayed nightly on ca­ble news, and there’s no big pub­lic fuss made when cashier jobs qui­etly slip away. But if Trump can dig out of his cur­rent prob­lems and get back to play­ing of­fense, he could do a lot of good for cashiers and him­self by pub­licly lean­ing on re­tail chains to pre­serve those jobs or even add to them.

And who can say? Just as we Jerseyites ap­pre­ci­ate hav­ing gas pumped for us, store cus­tomers across the coun­try would prob­a­bly come to ap­pre­ci­ate cashier-based check­out. We’d keep cashiers work­ing in­stead of hav­ing to live in poverty or go on wel­fare or file for dis­abil­ity. We’d all win. And so would Trump.

JULIO CORTEZ/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

To­fail Ahmed pumps gas for a driver at a BP sta­tion in Hobo­ken, N.J. The state’s ban on self-pump­ing pre­serves thou­sands of jobs.

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