Retailers hired 576,800 seasonal workers for holiday season.
The economic outlook appears strong heading out of the December holiday season, during which retailers had to compete to fill the demand for employees.
Retail industry employment in December grew by 15,200 jobs seasonally adjusted from November and 37,600 jobs unadjusted year-over-year, the National Retail Federation said.
While the numbers exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, they point to an increasing labor market. The labor department noted the nation added 312,000 jobs overall, the Labor Department said.
“Today’s numbers indicate that labor demand remains strong and signal that the economy is more stable than what the financial markets suggest,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said. “The strong growth in employment confirms that the labor market is still expanding. And while the unemployment rate increased, it did so for the right reason – more individuals are seeking to enter the labor force since wages are growing and more attractive.”
December’s retail job numbers built on a revised increase of 31,100 jobs in November from October. The three-month moving average, which had been at a loss of 6,700 jobs as of November, rose to an increase of 15,200 jobs in December.
December saw monthly gains of 15,000 jobs at general merchandise stores, which include department stores and warehouse clubs, and 4,000 jobs at food and beverage stores. There were losses of 1,100 jobs at online and other non-store retailers and 9,400 jobs at sporting goods and hobby stores.
Economy-wide, average hourly earnings in December were up 11 cents over November to $27.48 and up 84 cents from a year ago, a year-over-year increase of 3.2%. The Labor Department said unemployment was 3.9%, up from 3.7% in November.
Kleinhenz noted that retail job numbers reported by the Labor Department do not provide an accurate picture of the industry because they count only employees who work in stores while excluding retail workers in other parts of the business such as corporate headquarters, distribution centers, call centers and innovation labs.
Preliminary numbers show that retailers hired 576,800 seasonal employees during November and December, NRF said. With the tight labor market making it difficult to fill openings, the number came in lower than NRF’s forecast in October that temporary holiday employment would total between 585,000 and 650,000 jobs, up from 582,500 in 2017.
“Retailers would have been happy to hire more seasonal workers if they could have found them,” Kleinhenz said. “Our industry continues to have more job openings than applicants even for full-time positions.”