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Retail employment in December reaches highest level since 2019

holiday retail employee
Retailers added 119,700 jobs in December.

U.S. retailers staffed up in December, adding to an already robut workforce.

Retailers added 119,700 jobs in December, up from the 102,400 jobs added in the same month of the previous year. This brings the total for the season to 564,200, an 11% rise from the 509,300 jobs announced in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to an analysis of non-seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by global outplacement and leadership development and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

While Challenger did not track any more large-scale seasonal hiring announcements, a strong consumer holiday brought more-than-expected hiring for retailers. U.S.-based companies announced 573,300 seasonal positions for September through December, according to Challenger’s tracking.

Despite the growth, the figures are among the lowest since the 495,800 jobs were added in Q4 2009.

“This conservative hiring pattern could be attributed to the cost of labor and an anticipation of slower economic growth as we head into 2024,” said Andrew Challenger, senior VP of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “However, the holiday shopping season ended strong, and retailers expanded their ranks to meet demand.”

Retailer employment reached 15,979,100 workers in December, surpassing 2022's employment numbers and signaling the highest employment level since 2019, when 16,040,000 workers were employed in the sector.

  Transportation and Warehousing

The transportation and warehousing sector saw fewer workers to end 2023 than the previous year. After reporting lower employment numbers in November compared to the previous year, December’s figures ticked up from the same month one year prior to 131,700 from 122,700 December of 2022. Total employment in the sector is 7,008,800, down from December 2022 when 7,049,000 were employed in the sector.

This may reflect the impact of labor disputes and unionization efforts that have shifted the industry away from seasonal employment, according to Challenger.

“Transportation, shipping and warehousing staffing had a seasonal component, but with labor action and post-pandemic supply and demand shifts, we may see less dramatic seasonal swings in this sector,” he said.

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