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Retail Loses 34,700 Jobs as Recovery Stalls Due to Resurgent Virus

As the number of new COVID-19 cases continued to rise, the employment situation across the United States remains unsteady.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, total non-farm payrolls rose by 245,000 in November, while the unemployment rate edged down to 6.7%. While the jobless rate was in line with economists’ predictions, the economy was expected to gain 440,000 jobs.

The agency recorded notable improvements in transportation and warehousing, professional and business services, as well as health care. However, employment declined in the government and retail trade sectors.

Retailers as a whole lost 34,700 jobs, reflecting less seasonal hiring in several areas. Employment declines occurred in general merchandise stores, which fell by 20,800, with department stores giving up 13,800 roles while warehouse clubs and supercenters relinquished 7,000. Losses were also noted in sporting goods and hobby stores (-12,100); electronics and appliance stores (-11,300); health and personal care stores (-8,100); and non-store retailers (-1,000). Miscellaneous store retailers, however, picked up 3,700 jobs.

The report represented the fifth consecutive month of decelerating job gains. Specifically, total employment in the retail sector remains 550,000 below the level logged in February — the month before the pandemic took hold in the U.S.

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In the spring through early summer, small businesses and massive corporations alike saw a domino effect from widespread store closures. Workers across a range of industries were furloughed and laid off, and a number of executives temporarily waived their salaries in order to improve their companies’ liquidity positions. However, the retail workforce was a bright spot in October’s jobs report as stores, offices and businesses showed signs of recovery from the impact of the health crisis — likely helped by seasonal hiring for the holidays.

But another wave of the novel coronavirus is currently threatening the country — potentially leading more state and local governments to impose new lockdowns that would force nonessential businesses to once again shutter their doors to the public and put more workers out of jobs. According to Johns Hopkins University researchers, more than 14.14 million people in the U.S. have been sickened by COVID-19, and at least 276,400 have died.

Health authorities have predicted that these numbers will continue to climb as the holiday season and the cooler months have led to more crowds and indoor gatherings that can accelerate the outbreak. A forecast from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the country’s death toll could increase to between 303,000 and 329,000 by Dec. 26.

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