According to numbers released last week by the Department of Labor, retail is one of the few industries losing jobs in a generally stable economic climate.
Retail employment in March was down by 11,700 jobs, seasonally adjusted from February, and down 47,400 jobs unadjusted year-over-year. The United States saw a monthly gain of 196,000 jobs overall (across all industries) in March.
National Retail Federation (NRF) chief economist Jack Kleinhenz, for one, said the numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of the industry. In a statement from the NRF, the economist said the overall growth in employment “paints a picture of resiliency of the U.S. economy” and that “consumer confidence and consumer spending were down earlier in the year, so the retail numbers likely reflect merchants’ hesitancy to add to payrolls under those conditions.”
That may be, but it’s notable that retail has posted job losses for three solid months: Since January 2017, the industry has lost more than 140,000 jobs (including 18,500 jobs in February), according to the Department of Labor.
A confluence of factors is impacting retail’s job growth, say industry watchers. Among them is the downsizing of retail—led by the continued closing of big box and department stores—and an increase in automation, which may be shifting retail’s jobs away from stores and into technology and other back-of-house jobs.
Kleinhenz told CNBC, “You could now have a major retailer that owns a warehousing and distribution center, and products never go through a store. There has been improvement in productivity and the use of technology. I caution us to [not] be unnerved by these numbers at this point in time.”
Overall unemployment in March was 3.8 percent, unchanged from February.
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