There Are More Job Openings Than Unemployed People — and That’s Bad News for Retailers

Retailers hoping to staff up for the holidays would be wise to act fast and offer something more than the bare minimum — because in the current economy, job seekers may have the upper hand. The U.S. hit a record high number of job openings in August: 7,136,000, to be precise, according to data released by the Labor Department on Tuesday.

The latest figure underlines a trend that many business owners and workers have been feeling the effects of this year. With unemployment hovering near a 49-year low, it’s becoming more challenging for retailers to find qualified candidates to fill open positions (many of which are increasingly e-commerce-focused, rather than on the sales floor). In 2017, about 23 percent of retailers weren’t able to hire as many temporary workers as they wanted to, according to a survey conducted by Korn Ferry, an executive recruiting firm.

Since then, the labor market has only cinched tighter, so it’s likely this holiday season will be even more of a struggle.

Of course, one surefire way to attract great talent is to increase pay accordingly — and with Amazon’s announcement that it will raise its minimum wage for employees to $15 per hour, the pressure is on for other businesses to follow suit. Few have the budget of Jeff Bezos’ empire; however, many are looking to other ways to sweeten the deal. J.C. Penney is offering paid time off for part-time employees and even giving 401(k) benefits to some, while Kohl’s is upping its employee discount to 35 percent during certain shopping periods. Several retailers also began recruiting efforts in June to get a head start on the competition.

With the number of open positions now exceeding the number of unemployed people, per the Labor Department, it will be interesting to see whether wages — which have remained curiously sluggish in recent years despite the country’s overall economic momentum — will finally pick up steam.

Where footwear is concerned, a report by the FDRA this month shows that store employment remains mixed, with the number of people working in the shoe sector falling to the lowest since March 2015 — meanwhile, average weekly hours rose to tie the most (27.9 hours) in eight and a half years.

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