Retail Jobs Lagged in September Ahead of Holiday Hiring

Despite unemployment hitting a half-century low of 3.5%, September noted a slowdown in hiring with American employers adding a lower-than-expected 136,000 jobs.

According to the Labor Department, the jobless rate dipped 0.2 percentage points to reach a level that was last seen in December 1969. However, Wall Street had predicted 145,000 new jobs, and wages also proved disappointing with a meager 2.9% gain over the prior year.

The report comes during a period of uncertainty for the United States economy, which has been shouldering the impact of Washington’s protracted trade war with Beijing, deceleration in the manufacturing sector and a broader decline in the services industry.

Retail, in particular, took a beating with an overall loss of 11,400 jobs. Clothing and clothing accessories stores slashed 13,800, while department stores trimmed 6,200 and sporting goods stores cut 4,200. Miscellaneous store retailers and non-store (or online) retailers were also down a respective 3,700 and 3,000 jobs — offsetting the 5,800 new jobs added at general merchandise stores.

Amid a tightening labor market, retailers aiming to get ahead of the competition are rushing their search for holiday workers ahead of the crucial shopping season. According to a survey by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, 70% of employers reported difficulty finding qualified candidates for job openings, with companies now offering flexible schedules and time-off benefits in an effort to attract talent.

Some companies got an early start by ramping up their efforts over the summer, with Kohl’s putting out a call in mid-July — months before annual hiring sprees typically begun.

Target announced plans in September to add hundreds of thousands of temporary workers for the holidays. (About 130,000 employees would be spread out in stores as well as fulfillment and distribution centers.) Another 30,000 jobs are also up for grabs at Amazon, which hosted its Career Day on Sept. 17 in an effort to find candidates for full- and part-time roles.

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