Retail Stalls as Economy Adds 250,000 Jobs Before Holiday Shopping Season

Ahead of the midterm elections and the holiday shopping season, the labor market appears to be solid, adding 250,000 jobs last month, shooting past Wall Street expectations.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment remained unchanged at 3.7 percent, continuing September’s positive trend when the rate reached its lowest point in 49 years. Annual wage growth hit over 3 percent for the first time in nine years.

However, the numbers saw little change in the retail sector, which gained just 2,400 jobs. Clothing and clothing accessories stores declined in the hundreds, and sporting goods stores shed 6,100 jobs. General merchandise stores, on the other hand, climbed slightly by 1,700 jobs, with losses in department stores (-1,500) offset by gains in warehouse clubs and supercenters (+3,200).

Yesterday, the Labor Department reported that wages and salaries soared to their highest level in a decade, with that figure for private-sector employees rising 3.1 percent in the third quarter. (Comparably, civilian workers received a 2.9 percent pay bump, while state and local government workers saw improvements of 2.3 percent.) It marked the strongest year-over-year gain since the second quarter of 2008, before the stock market crash.

The increase in wages and salaries combined with a record number of job openings can put retailers at a disadvantage as they seek qualified candidates to fill open positions. Job seekers might even have the upper hand with the ability to demand higher compensation.

The jobs report also comes after recent hurricanes pummeled the Carolinas as well as the Florida Panhandle and Gulf Coast. Hurricane Florence, which made landfall in September, was blamed for the stymied growth in retail sales that month, while Hurricane Michael persuaded major retailers like DSW and Payless ShoeSource to close shop before touching down in the second week of October.

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