Business & Economy

There are lots of jobs in warehouses. Good salaries? Not so much.

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Look out at the sea of warehouses in the Inland Empire, crowded big rigs on Southern California freeways and massive ships in the ever-expanding ports and it's clear that the trade and logistics industries have had a good decade. 

Now a report from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation puts numbers to that picture, finding that the trade and logistics workforce grew by nearly 10 percent from 2005-2015 and now totals nearly 600,000 people.

Economists used data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the U.S. Department of Commerce. They found that the trade and logistics workforce grew at more than twice the rate of employment overall in Southern California.

Warehousing, which is just one slice of the trade and logistics industry, grew at the fastest clip: 55 percent, adding nearly 30,000 jobs over the 10 years. Among the other findings in the report:

The average wage in logistics is $63,000, but...

...there's a big range between the haves and have nots.

The highest earners work in marine cargo handling and unionized longshore work. They earned an average of $111,000 in 2015.

At the low end were rail workers, who earned an average salary of about $38,000.

The report found that warehouse employees earn on average about $43,000, however that number lumps together higher-paid managers and floor workers doing manual labor.

The LAEDC's Shannon Sedgwick, who co-authored the report, noted that the majority of warehouse workers make closer to $25,000 a year.

Wages didn't rise much

Wage growth in the trade and logistics industry mirrored the region as a whole, increasing by 2.6 percent between 2005 and 2015. But warehouse workers actually saw their inflation-adjusted wages fall by an average of 9 percent, said Sedgwick.

"When you look at the growth of their wages over time, it actually has less purchasing power today than it did back then [2005]," she said, explaining that this is due in part to domestic outsourcing.

"A lot of establishments are using outside staffing agencies to bring on additional workers, and typically [those workers] earn less than if they [were] hired directly," she said.

The report noted the boost in warehouse employment coupled with the drop in wage growth, and said it implied the industry was placing less value on warehouse workers "possibly due to a plentiful supply of low-skilled workers in the region available to fill these jobs, combined with the industry expectation that these jobs will face increasing levels of automation in the near future."

Which leads us to...

The machines are ready to work 

The LAEDC report pointed to several new companies that are creating warehouse robots that will eventually be able to replace low-skilled workers who package e-commerce orders in fulfillment centers.

"Most robots found in warehouse operations today work collaboratively with humans because they face challenges with the identification and selection of items from shelves or bins," the report said. "Future generations of robots, combined with advances in deep machine learning and artificial intelligence, will no doubt overcome these challenges in the near future."

UPS and Amazon delivery drivers need not worry yet, however.

"Drones without direct supervision of a human are not currently legal in the U.S. Until they are, [deliveries] will require a human [labor] component," the report said.

While some warehouses are using autonomous forklifts, the report said, companies are not yet at the point of using self-driving trucks. "The biggest obstacle to the widespread adoption of autonomous trucks is the federal government, which has yet to establish a set of laws specific to autonomous vehicles," it said.

Job growth will slow

Using federal data, the economists forecast that employers will create more than 21,000 new trade and logistics jobs in Southern California over the next five years, a slower rate than during the 2005-2015 period.

However the industry will need an additional 70,000 replacement workers over the same period, mostly due to people retiring, the report said.