Retail employment slides, but could pick up for holidays

Dive Brief:

  • Retail employment (excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants) declined modestly in August, losing 900 jobs from July, the National Retail Federation said last week.

  • Overall, the economy gained 156,000 jobs in August, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s monthly report, released last week. Retail employment was little changed month to month. Some 1,900 retail jobs were cut in July, and just 800 jobs were added back in August, according to the Labor Department.

  • Retail job losses continues to lead all sectors this year, with 67,596 announced cuts so far, and 3,607 retail jobs cut in August, according to a report emailed to Retail Dive by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Retail job cuts are 51.4% percent higher this year than through the same point last year, when 44,643 retail cuts were announced, Challenger said. 

Dive Insight:

Taken together, retail employment is under pressure, though the Labor Department’s monthly snapshot isn’t a complete picture, according to NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz. The government counts only employees working in stores, excluding retail workers retailer’s corporate headquarters, distribution centers, call centers and innovation labs.

Demand for workers is high in some of those unreported areas, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger. “Although we have seen high layoffs in retail with store closings and some companies filing for bankruptcy, there has also been increased hiring in new areas of the sector as retailers build out their e-commerce platforms. Shipping and technology jobs are expanding and going unfilled,” he said in a statement emailed to Retail Dive. “We are seeing a labor market in which skilled technical and logistics/supply chain talent is in high demand.”

An increasing number of such jobs involve new technologies and are more customer-centric, Challenger said. Plus, August is historically a tricky month for anyone analyzing employment, according to Kleinhenz. “August has a history of being a quirky jobs report. The data must adjust for teachers returning to school with different start dates, along with summer jobs winding down at various times,” Kleinhenz said in a statement. “This makes the seasonal adjustment difficult if not tricky. The initial release is often below trend and subject to subsequent revisions.”

Retail employment continues to be mixed as building material and garden supply retailers had a gain of 4,500 jobs, compared to furniture and furnishing stores that added just 1,200. Meanwhile, health and personal care, clothing and sporting goods retailers together lost 6,300 jobs, the NRF said.

Overall, the economy remains fairly robust. Average hourly earnings in August grew 0.1% to 2.5%, where it has held steady the past four months. The Labor Department said August unemployment increased to a still-modest 4.4% percent, from 4.3% in July.

“Despite the slight decrease, the three-month average of 185,000 job gains combined with July’s personal income and spending release confirm solid economic momentum and should provide retailers positive guidance as they gear up for the upcoming holiday season,” Kleinhenz said. Indeed, although there were more job cuts in August, they continue to be significantly lower compared to the same time last year, Challenger said.

The holidays will, as usual, inject new life into retail employment, Challenger added. “Retail is pivoting, and with the holiday rush just around the corner, a big jump in seasonal jobs is imminent,” he said.

This story is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2017 holiday shopping season. You can browse our holiday page and sign up for our holiday newsletter for more stories.

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