Retail jobs climb amid ‘one of the strongest gains all year’

Dive Brief:

  • Retail jobs rose by “an unusually high 12,900 jobs” in November from October (excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants), according to a press release from the National Retail Federation.
  • Overall, employers added 228,000 jobs in November, another healthy economic sign as retailers wind down the year with the holiday sales push, according to the monthly report from the Labor Department. November’s unemployment rate is 4.1%, according to another report from the same office, a 17-year low.
  • But wage growth remains tepid: average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 5 cents to $26.55. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 64 cents, or 2.5%, according to the Labor Department — a rate that was “below expectations,” according to a statement Friday from U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta.

Dive Insight:

Retailers’ holiday hiring may be helping boost November’s numbers. The annual hiring of temporary holiday workers is on track to reach the high end of the NRF’s forecast of between 500,000 and 550,000 positions, the organization said in a press release on Friday. The NRF forecasts that this year’s holiday sales will grow between 3.6% and 4%.

“This was one of the strongest gains we’ve seen all year,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a statement. “You expect employment to be up during the holiday season and retailers are expecting strong holiday sales with related job growth, but overall growth in the economy has to be recognized here as well. We’re also seeing new jobs in other sectors of the economy, particularly industrial, and that means more demand for retail goods and a need for more retail workers.”

Employment rose in most retail sectors last month but there were some decreases, in electronics and appliance stores; clothing and clothing accessories stores; as well as non-store sales, which includes e-commerce, the NRF noted.

The Labor Department’s characterization of retail jobs hasn’t quite caught up with e-commerce, Kleinhenz also noted: It counts store employees, but not retail workers in corporate offices, distribution centers, call centers and innovation labs. Warehouse and storage employment, for example, was up by 8,100 jobs in November, but those don’t count as retail jobs even when they’re at retailers.

Still, holiday holiday hiring announcements are slightly behind last year’s totals, according to outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. Companies have announced 608,129 seasonal hires so far this year, 2% fewer than the 620,700 announced last year, according to Challenger tracking. However, total hiring announcements reached over one million, the highest number on record, according to Challenger’s report, which was emailed to Retail Dive.

While tax reform is a wild card when it comes to retail hiring — it could mean more hiring or more workforce consolidation — increased merger and acquisition activity among retailers could mean lost jobs.

“While job-cut announcements have remained low all year, major M&A activity, such as the CVS/Aetna deal and the possibility of Amazon buying generic pharmaceutical manufacturers, could lead to a spate of large-scale job-cut announcements to open 2018, especially at Pharmaceutical, Retail, and Health Care companies,” John Challenger,Challenger, Gray & Christmas Chief Executive Officer said in an email to Retail Dive.