Retail Industry Still Lags in Employment Returns

The retail industry was one of the hardest hit sectors of the COVID-19 pandemic, and employment is still lagging behind.
retail workers

Clothing and clothing accessories stores are still missing 18.5% of their workforce as of July 2021, compared to a benchmark of employment numbers in February 2020, according to a new report from Littler. That’s the percentage change in employment among these retailers, after the U.S. was previously enjoying a historic high rate of employment before the pandemic in 2020.

Retailers—along with entertainment, travel, sports and transportation companies— represented some of the biggest job losses through the pandemic. While the U.S has recovered millions of jobs from the early days of the pandemic in 2020, the overall jobs level remains about 4.3% short of the pre-pandemic level in February 2020, the report found. 

The report, released over Labor Day weekend, also looked at overall unemployment trends. Women suffered the greatest job losses across the economy during the pandemic, as did those without college degrees. In the economic recovery, states-level unemployment rates “loosely reflect urbanization and population density,” the report stated. 

Unemployment rates have generally been lower in more rural areas, though some states where unemployment rates are lowest have also adopted fewer COVID-19 restrictions. In these areas, vaccination rates are also lower, “and the current resurgence of the Delta variant is hitting them severely, suggesting that worse economic disruption may be in the future for some of them,” the report noted. 

There were some bright spots in the report, including franchises, which surpassed the February 2020 benchmark of 10.1 million workers in May 2021, with 10.35 million workers. 

“The job gains in online retail, fulfillment warehousing and delivery services boosted total employment even though job losses lingered elsewhere in the non-franchise sector,” the report said.

By July 2021, restaurants and auto supply dealers, which are the two largest industries within the franchise sector, had employment that surpassed the February 2020 benchmark. Building material and garden supplies was the only other franchise sector to report the same achievement.