The retail industry's pain is being felt by its massive workforce.
Barely a quarter into 2017, year-to-date store closings have already topped the historical high of 2008, a Credit Suisse report said Thursday. About 2,880 stores have closed year to date, compared with 1,153 at the same time last year.
Since 60 percent of store closures are typically announced in the first five months of the year, Credit Suisse estimates there could be more than 8,640 store closings this year.
The impact of these closures — a mixture of shrinking store fleets and Chapter 11 filings — is already trickling into the industry's nearly 16 million jobs. Almost 30,000 retail workers lost their jobs in March, and more than 60,000 jobs have been eliminated since January.
March's report marked the worst two months for job creation in the retail industry since December 2009, according to the Bespoke Investment Group. The industry's shortfall contributed to the US creating only 98,000 jobs in March, compared with the 180,000 expected.
Some 58,500 retail jobs were added from March 2016.
"It's an industry that's in real flux," John Challenger, CEO of the Challenger, Gray & Christmas outplacement firm, told CNBC. "I do think that there are more cuts to come here, particularly in the department store group."
Indeed, the repercussions are far from over.
With less than one-third of properties generating 70 percent of total mall value, Cowen predicts some 20 percent of malls will need to close or be repurposed over the next decade. That's even as occupancy rates in the country's malls stood just below a multidecade high at the end of 2016, according to Cowen.
While many of the industry's struggles are the result of a shift to online shopping, massive overbuilding has also played a role. The number of U.S. malls has roughly quadrupled to 1,220 since 1970, while, the country's population has grown by less than half that amount over a comparable period. And as parts of that population flee towns with high unemployment or other economic or social shifts, the lowest-tier malls have become less relevant.
Whatever the reason, retailers will need to respond to the steady decline in mall traffic, which has fallen every quarter except one since January 2014, according to Cowen. While stores are still a crucial piece of retail — accounting for some 90 percent of the industry's sales — Chen analyzed how many stores several major chains should close over five years' time. Here's what he concluded.