The future of jobs? Thousands descend on Amazon job fairs

KENOSHA, Wis. -- The big special at Amazon Wednesday was jobs. And thousands of people jumped in line, with feet not fingers, to try to get one. 

The lines started well before the job fairs in places like Baltimore, Maryland, Kent, Washington and Kenosha, Wisconsin. 

In Kenosha, CBS News spoke with Bob Harms. He was laid off from a sales job last month. 

"I know there's opportunity here and that's why I'm here," Harms said. 

He needs a job with benefits to cover medical bills for his wife, who has cancer.

"She's a worrywart and I need to not let her worry so much," Harms said. 

He hopes to get one of 50,000 jobs available at Amazon. At a dozen imultaneous job fairs on Wednesday, they were filling entry-level positions that pay $11.50 to $15 an hour. 

Applicants came in suits, brought resumes and were given free slushies to pass the time. They applied to be sorters, packers and shippers who will work alongside robots in fast-moving fulfillment centers. 

But Amazon is growing as traditional retail is shrinking. Over the last 15 years, e-commerce added more than 160,000 jobs as department stores lost nearly half a million. The shift is due in part to a shopping migration from stores to the internet. 

David Clark, economics professor at Marquette University, said the hiring frenzy is not making up for jobs lost in areas like retail. 

"They're certainly not hiring to the degree that a traditional bricks and mortar establishment would," Clark said. 

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Thousands descended on Amazon's job fair in Washington on Wednesday. 

CBS News

In Kenosha, Harms applied but didn't make the cut. 

"I know how these things go," he said. "It doesn't bother me much at all." He said he would re-apply.

Thousands of others, like Randy Scott in Ohio, were hired on the spot. 

"How often do you get to do that," Scott asked. "Just go to an interview and be done?"

Some will start in days and aren't deterred by Amazon's growing automation. 

"Someone's got to fix the robots," said one applicant.