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US Has More Job Openings Than Willing Workers: Week Ahead

The U.S. now has more job openings than the number of people who are considered unemployed.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. now has 10.1 million jobs available and 8.7 million workers pounding the pavement looking for jobs. While employers have begun to offer incentives such as higher starting salaries and sign-on bonuses, they still seem to be having a hard time filling open positions.

Thursday’s BLS report for June 2021 said the 10.1 million open positions is the highest since it started tracking job openings in December 2000. The largest increases in job openings were in professional and business services, with gains of 227,000. Retail trade jobs ranked second, up 133,000 to 1.15 million positions posted. As for actual hires, that number rose 697,000 to 6.7 million overall for the month of June, or a hiring rate of 4.6 percent. Hires in the retail trade rose by 291,000 to 1.12 million from 832,000 in May. However, separations—quits, layoffs and discharges—in the retail trade rose by 79,000 to 847,000 from 768,000 in May. Actual hires and separations in June 2021 resulted in a net hiring in the retail trade sector of just 276,000 Americans for the month.

Some economists have cited unemployment benefits as one reason for workers electing to stay on the sidelines. That could change as more states end federal pandemic benefits early. One wild card could be if the federal government decides to extend the aid, which is set to end next month.

There are two other potential problems cited by Gabriella Santaniello, a retail consultant and founder of the research firm A Line Partners. One has been the increase in the number of firms mandating that workers either take the Covid jab or be subject to weekly testing. Workers who elect to quit rather than get vaccinated don’t qualify for unemployment benefits. So while their departures won’t increase the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits, it could result in more open positions that need to be filled. And employers seeking to fill positions, but requiring the jab, could find themselves with a smaller pool of eligible workers. The second one concerns the mask-wearing mandate. She said one retailer in Los Angeles County has missed its back-to-school targets, although its Orange County location has seen traffic and sales rise due to a different local mandate. The concern is what impact it might have when retailers analyze store profitability, and ultimately which stores in a network end up closing and shedding retail jobs.

On Thursday, new claims for jobless benefits totaled 375,000 last week. The number of people filing for unemployment benefits, for the most part, has been on a steady decline. However, there’s also a sense that many of the open job positions are essentially replacements for jobs lost during the pandemic, particularly as the biggest increases in openings over time have been in the restaurant sector. In any event, the one thing that’s clear is that many retail jobs—such as store sales associates—that were lost last year aren’t coming back. And the new jobs coming onboard will likely reflect the updated needs of retailers in a post-Covid world.

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Some retailers are hiring, although not necessarily for in-store sales positions. Dollar Tree is hosting an in-person hiring event on Saturday, Aug. 14, at each of its 26 U.S. distribution centers. The company said it is offering its “warehouse associates flexible schedules, competitive pay, an attractive benefits package and now a $1,000 sign-on bonus.” The company said it has a broad range of openings that include managerial positions, full- and part-time order fillers, equipment operators, maintenance technicians and warehouse associates. It didn’t say how many open positions it was looking to fill.

As for anyone looking for sales jobs as store associates, some of those could resurface over the next few months. Retailers looking to ensure they have enough staff to cover holiday shopping needs, whether its filling orders for in-store pick-up or helping with curbside delivery, tend to up their staffing in late October or early November. While most of the traditional holiday positions are temporary, many could morph into permanent positions as retailers learn how to adapt operations to match changing customer shopping habits.

An early read on how retailers are planning ahead for the holiday shopping season could come next week when retailers such as Walmart, Target, TJX, The Children’s Place, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and Ross Stores all post second-quarter financial results.