Amazon Fulfillment Center (AP Photo/Ted Warren/File)

NEW YORK (AP)—Retail stores are cutting jobs at the sharpest pace in more than seven years, evidence of a seemingly inexorable shift away from employee-heavy stores as Americans increasingly shop online.

A combined 60,600 retail job losses over the past two months have had less to do with the health of U.S. consumer spending than with changes in buying habits. In the age of Amazon, traditional stores, from J.C. Penney to Macy’s, have accelerated store closures and are experimenting with the use of fewer employees to staff the remaining stores.

The industry has also been bruised by a string of bankruptcy filings, most recently from Payless ShoeSource. The company announced this week that it was closing nearly 400 stores, nearly 10 percent of its fleet.

The job cuts in the retail industry, unwelcome as they are, are still a relatively minor burden for the overall U.S. economy. But for Americans seeking a foothold in the job market, the pullback represents a painful obstacle. Retail accounts for nearly one-third of first-time jobs in the United States, so a retrenchment by the industry’s employers can block access to the job market for many.

As shopping on the web has expanded, retail jobs have represented a declining share of the labor market. They now account for 10.9 percent of jobs, compared with 11.6 percent in 2000, says Michael Niemira, principal of The Retail Economist, a research firm. And experts expect more store closings—and job losses—in coming months.

“It’s principally about the impact of online shopping and how consumers are shopping differently than ever before,” Niemira said. “It’s harder for the industry to consistently do well and make money.”

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