Retail Added 37,000 Jobs in February, Despite Persisting Labor Shortages

The U.S. added more jobs than expected in February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 678,000 jobs in January, beating expectations from estimates that saw payroll growth of 440,000 jobs. While February’s job gains beat the 467,000 jobs added in January, these numbers are still down about 1.4% from pre-pandemic levels in February of 2020.

Job gains were seen across leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, health care, and construction.

Retail trade employment rose by 37,000 in February, bolstered by a 12,000 job gain in building material and garden supply stores, a 6,000 job gain in furniture and home furnishings stores, and a 5,000 job gain in gasoline stations. Overall, retail employment has surpassed pre-pandemic levels in February of 2020 levels by 104,000 jobs, despite persisting labor shortages across the sector. Transportation and warehousing also added 48,000 jobs in February and is also sitting at 584,000 jobs higher than February 2020.

In February, the unemployment rate slowed to 3.8%, or 6.3 million people, down from 4% in January.  This beat estimates that predicted a 3.9% unemployment rate, CNBC reported. While still above pre-pandemic unemployment levels in February 2020, which were at 3.5% and 5.7 million people, the unemployment rate is still showing signs of gradual improvement.

4.2 million people in February reported being unable to work because of closed business or pandemic-related causes. This number was down from the 6.0 million who reported similarly in January.

The job gains come as a record number of people quit their jobs, exacerbating labor shortages across retail and other industries. About 4.3 million people quit their jobs in December at a rate of 2.9%, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This number represented a slight improvement from the record 4.5 million Americans who quit their jobs in November (at a rate of 3%) though the number of quits is still hovering at near record high levels.

Some retailers have introduced increased pay, benefits and sign-on bonuses and have held hiring events to attract and retain enough workers to keep stores staffed and meet consumer demand. In February, average hourly wages for private nonfarm payrolls were $31.58 in February, marking little change from the $31.63 in January. Average hourly earnings have increased by 5.1% over the last year.

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