Is a job at Amazon a 'good job'?

Amazon employee Troy Scott packs the the Kindle DX for shipment at the warehouse on June 10, 2009 in Campbellsville, Ky.

Amazon.com lost about $7 million last quarter, but the world’s largest online retailer keeps posting double-digit increases in sales. And all that stuff has to come from somewhere, so Amazon’s been opening more of its massive warehouses around the country. Now it’s hiring 5,000 full-time workers, but the company says they’re “not your typical warehouse jobs.”

These days Amazon.com sells pretty much everything, so its warehouses have to be pretty big.

“The majority of our fulfillment centers are about 1 million square feet, so the equivalent to 27 football fields,” says Kelly Cheeseman, an Amazon spokeswoman.

Full-time workers have to be able to run a forklift, move heavy stuff, and do a lot of walking, bending and reaching for up to 12 hours a day. They get health care, a 401(k) and some company stock. Amazon says the median pay is about 30 percent higher than traditional retail jobs (and varies by market).

The Department of Labor says the median wage in retail is about $10 per hour, so the Amazon jobs would pay about $13 per hour.

“We also have a program called Career Choice where we pre-pay [up to $3,000 per year in] tuition, for courses related to in-demand fields regardless of whether the skills are relevant to a career at Amazon,” Cheeseman explains.

This burst of new jobs from an online retailer is a good sign for the industry, says Heather Boushey, chief economist at the Center for American Progress. “If these jobs are being paid a little bit better or lot better than the old-school retail jobs, then that says certainly says something about the kind of economy we could be creating moving forward,” Boushey explains.

Even as the current economy recovers, 5,000 new jobs is a lot from one retailer, according to Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.  “It’s a very positive sign for Amazon,” she says. “Whether it’s a positive sign for other retailers, I’m not quite not sure, because it’s so convenient for many people to order from Amazon.com rather than going to their shopping mall or your local corner store.”

That competition could ultimately cost jobs at those retailers. But at Amazon customer demand is growing. Besides the warehouse jobs, it’s also hiring 2,000 customer service workers -- no heavy-lifting required.

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