Holiday shopping is key to the bottom line for many retailers with sales across most retail categories rising in November and December.
And to handle the crowds of shoppers searching for the perfect gift, retail stores hire seasonal employees, starting in October. But when the holidays end, so does the need for all those extra workers, driving retail employment down.
From 2010 to 2021, the total number of jobs lost in January and February were greater than the number of employees hired for the holiday according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. This means job cuts impact non-seasonal hires as well.
Eight categories of retail stores typically increase employment before and during the holiday season: furniture and home furnishings stores; electronics and appliance stores; health and personal care stores; clothing and clothing accessories stores; sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores; general merchandise stores; miscellaneous store retailers; and non-store retailers.
In the last eleven years, these eight retail categories combined hired an average of 660,000 employees, about half the population of Hawaii, from October through December. Retail hiring reached a peak of 761,000 holiday employees in 2013 as the economy bounced back from the Great Recession. Holiday hiring then decreased for five consecutive years, rising again in 2019.
The retailers in the eight retail categories that are most reliant on holiday sales lose an average of 686,000 jobs in the first two months of the year, according to BLS data from 2011 to 2021. Most of these job losses occur in January.
The gap in the seasonal employee cycle was larger in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 holiday seasons. About 75,000 employees that were not holiday hires lost their jobs in 2018, followed by 100,000 in 2019.
The 2020-2021 holiday season did not follow the same trend, however. Seasonal hiring was similar to recent years, but the cuts that followed were far lower. This year had the fewest jobs lost after the holidays, within the last 11 years.
This holiday shopping season is more complicated for most retailers. Inflation is up and BLS data shows it is harder for employers to find workers. Data on whether retailers retained more of their employees after the holidays will be released in March 2022 by the BLS.
Track retail sales and other indicators for economic recovery during this holiday season at the USAFacts Impact and Recovery Hub.
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