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Retail Employment Falls Ahead of Seasonal Hiring

U.S. employers added 261,000 jobs in October, pushing unemployment down to 4.1%, the lowest rate since the halcyon days of late 2000.

By contrast, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the retail industry suffered a net decrease of 8,000 jobs in the month. Total employment in the sector stands at 15.8 million, or 10.8% of total nonfarm employment in the U.S., its lowest share in decades.

The bulk of the job loss was in specialty stores, where 6,000 positions were eliminated, which, on top of the 2,000 job loss in the department store channel, is not surprising given the pace at which mall-based retailers are closing stores in response to changing consumer preferences.

Many traditional retailers have started the process of hiring seasonal workers which, if successful, could temporarily swell the ranks by 80,000 at Macy’s, 40,000 at J.C. Penney, 100,000 at Target, and 69,000 at Kohl’s.

Perhaps discouraged by the low unemployment rate and resulting difficulty in attracting workers, Walmart has said that instead of hiring additional people, it will fill the stockings of its existing staffers with more hours (and overtime pay), which it no doubt hopes will be spent in its stores.

Non-store retail, which is dominated by e-commerce, saw its net employment remain stable at 570,000. So far this year, the sector, which includes e-commerce, added 23,000 positions.

Employment at warehouse and delivery companies also remained stable in the month, at 1.64 million. Year-to-date, logistics employment has increased by 27,000 net new jobs, a figure that is expected to grow dramatically in the next two months as these companies gear up for holiday. Amazon has reported it will hire 120,000 temporary workers for the season. In related news, UPS said it will hire 90,000 additional workers, and Fedex 50,000.