The retail sector was strong throughout the holidays behind robust consumer spending. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported Friday (Jan. 4) the sector added 37,600 jobs in December compared to a year ago. The retail gains, which exclude automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, came as 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 in a news release. “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, the trade group noted.
Roughly half of the new retail jobs (15,000) were added at general merchandise stores, which include department stores and warehouse clubs. Roughly 4,000 jobs were added 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.
The Labor Department reported hourly earnings in December rose 11 cents to $27.48, compared to November. Hourly earnings compared to a year ago rose 3.2%, or 84 cents. Unemployment was 3.9%, up from 3.7% in November.
Kleinhenz said 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.
NRF also reported retailers hired roughly 576,000 season employees in November and December. The tight labor market hindered the sector’s ability to hire the anticipated 585,000 jobs the Federation predicted.
“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.”