FILE - In this Thursday, April 27, 2017, file photo, people walk past an Amazon Go store, currently open only to Amazon employees, in Seattle. Amazon Go shops are convenience stores that don't use cashiers or checkout lines, but use a tracking system that of sensors, algorithms, and cameras to determine what a customer has bought. Amazon says the company has no plans to use such sensors to automate the cashier jobs at Whole Foods, which Amazon is acquiring. Still, it’s the kind of technology that could help cut costs down the road, and that others may look to as well. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File) Photo: Elaine Thompson, STF / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

It’s never a good time to be laid off, but it came at a particularly difficult time for Debbie, who was in her early 50s when she was let go from her job in 2010 after 21 years as a high school science teacher.

In the wake of the Great Recession, nobody was hiring teachers, especially more experienced ones. So Debbie, who declined to give her last name so as not to jeopardize her job search prospects, took whatever she could find — jobs at Kroger, Party City, Valero. When she was last laid off, the retail jobs seemed to have dried up entirely.

“As far as job hunting, you’re not going to find anything around here that’s retail,” Debbie said, while clicking through listings at Cypress Assistance Ministries, a faith-based group that helps people get back on their feet.

And she’s right: In Houston, even while malls continue to mushroom and the rest of the Houston economy has kicked back into gear, retail employment growth has fallen off a cliff. In the past few months, the sector has actually shrunk on a year over…