The Service Industry In America: What You Need To Know

The Service Industry In America: What You Need To Know

With a new year, a new Congress, and a new administration, Path Forward is highlighting what you need to know about the service industry and the role it plays in the lives of millions of Americans. Below are key facts about how the restaurant and retail businesses serve as a place for people to enter the workforce and train for a career.

Service industry jobs provide opportunities for Americans to start and grow their careers, which contributes to a stronger economy.

  • 59% of Americans have worked at a retail job and 50% of Americans have worked in a restaurant
  • The service industry supports one in four American jobs, for a total of 30 million combined restaurant and retail industry employees

Through work restaurant and retail businesses, Americans can gain their first job experience, a path to re-enter the workforce, flexibility, and part time work options.

  • The service sector provides more entry–level jobs than any other industry
  • Nearly a quarter of all retail workers are between the ages of 16 and 24
  • 90% of restaurant managers and 80% of restaurant owners started in an entry-level position
  • 71% of hiring managers say retail provides employees with foundational skills and experience transferable to other industries and recommend that employees include retail experience on their resumes

The service industry offers workers the opportunity to advance and expand their career paths.

  • 80% of hiring managers state that the skills and traits that are most important to them are the same skills and traits that more than eight in ten current retail employees say they use regularly
  • 97% of managers say they have advanced to a higher-paying job within the restaurant industry
  • 71% of restaurant employees age 18-24 have advanced to a more lucrative position in business after their first job

Lawmakers have also benefited from their jobs in the service industry.

  • Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) said his experience in retail has helped him become a strong advocate in Congress: “Selling shoes has been some of my most valuable training. I can recognize a customer, listen to him or her and see how their needs can be met with my inventory and that’s how I sell legislation – one customer at a time…as customers of my shoe stores and now as my constituents. I enjoy working with the people of my home state and I especially like knowing that I am able to make a difference for them in the Congress.”
  • Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA) learned the value of hard work and helping others through early experience in the service industry: “My first job, as a teenager, was bussing tables and washing dishes at the San Bernardino County Courthouse Cafeteria. My grandfather, who was legally blind, managed the facility and manned the cash register. He taught me the values of hard work, playing by the rules and helping others.”
  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) climbed the career ladder from working as a fast food employee during college to the highest-ranking woman in Congress today: “[America is] A nation where a girl who worked at the McDonald’s Drive-Thru to help pay for college can be with you from the United States Capitol.”
  • Rep. John Bradley Ashford (D-NE) attributes his value of hard work to lessons he learned through his parents small retail business: “John Bradley Ashford… learned the value of hard work and small business as a boy stocking shelves at his parents’ small business, the Nebraska Clothing Company. Not only did he learn the meaning of an honest day’s work, but his family also instilled in him the importance of investing in and giving back to one’s community.”
  • Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) built valuable skills through previous experiences in the service sector:  “I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, you know, when I was flippin’ burgers at McDonald’s, when I was standing in front of that big Hobart machine washing dishes or waiting tables, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life.”
(Sources: National Restaurant Association: “America Works Here”; National Retail Federation: “Survey Shows Most Americans Have Worked In Retail”, 1/8/16; The Aspen Institute: Reinventing Low Wage Work, Ideas That Can Work For Employees, Employers and the Economy: “The Retail Trade Workforce in the United States,” 2013; “Restaurant Industry Pocket Factbook,” 2015; “Retail’s Value On A Resume,” June 2015; Survey: “Who Works In The Restaurant Industry,” October-November 2013; “Minority Owned Restaurants Growing Sharply,” 2/9/16; “Retail’s Value On A Resume,” June 2015; National Restaurant Association: “Restaurants a great place to ‘start’ a career”, 8/12/2015)