2013 Holiday Hiring Update: Holiday Retail Hiring Down from Record Levels

After getting off to its strongest start in 14 years, the pace of holiday hiring in November slipped below last year’s level, suggesting that retailers may be reining in expectations for a bountiful Christmas selling season.

Retail employment expanded by 471,000 in November, which is down 4.7 percent from a year ago, when retailers hired a record 494,400 workers, according to an analysis of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ non-seasonally adjusted employment data by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

In addition to the November decline, the retail job gains in October were adjusted downward from an originally reported 159,500 to 158,000. Overall, retail job gains through the first two months of the year-end holiday hiring surge now total 629,000, which is 2.3 percent lower than the 643,800 jobs added in October and November 2012.

“While November hiring was down from a year ago, it is important to understand that November 2012 saw the largest number of workers ever added to retail payrolls in a single month, according to non-
seasonally adjusted government data going back to 1939. So, despite the year-over-year decline, last month still represents the second highest one-month employment gain for this industry on record,” noted John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“Unless there is significant retail hiring in December, year-end retail employment gains probably will not match last year’s pace. With the National Retail Federation forecasting tepid growth this holiday season and weak Thanksgiving weekend spending, a December hiring surge is looking less and less likely,” said Challenger.

Holiday retail sales were expected to increase by 3.9 percent this year, according to an October forecast by the National Retail Federation. That would represent just a slight improvement over the 3.5 percent sales increase achieved in 2012. However, that 3.9 percent increase could prove to be elusive, based on the fact that initial reports on retail spending over the Thanksgiving weekend showed a decline of nearly 3.0 percent from a year ago, due in large part to heavy discounting.

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The widely-reported seasonally-adjusted data, which is intended to “smooth out” volatile fluctuations in seasonal hiring, showed a net gain of 22,300 new retail jobs in November. Challenger uses the non-seasonally adjusted data to capture the actual holiday hiring activity.